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Second member of new airport authority resigns

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

BRIDGEPORT -- A second member of the new Benedum Airport Authority resigned Wednesday.

Gary Smith, general manager of Pratt & Whitney, cited a pending lawsuit that is challenging the new board's constitutionality as his reason. His letter indicated he would be willing to remain should his membership be shown to be legally proper.

Clarksburg attorney Ralph Bean resigned from the board Tuesday, citing an undisclosed conflict of interest.

"The UTC (United Technologies Corporation) Business Practices Office has determined that I cannot participate as a member of BAA unless and until the propriety of my appointment is finally determined by a court of competent jurisdiction and/or by the West Virginia Ethics Commission," Smith said in the letter.

United Technologies is the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, which has a large operation at the recently renamed Harrison-Marion Regional Airport.

"While UTC and I find it difficult to believe that West Virginia law would prohibit a practice common among airport authorities around the nation, we must have due concern for the possibility and any appearance of impropriety."

Smith was referring to lawsuit allegations that some new members have conflicts of interest because of their employment in the aviation industry.

The lawsuit was filed by the former airport authority, which became defunct July 1 when a new state law governing authority membership went into effect. The case is pending in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Roger Diaz, a Harrison County commissioner and member of both the old and new boards, said he found Smith's resignation interesting.

"This is something we've been saying all along," Diaz said of the new board. "You're people who have a conflict of interest."

Smith was appointed to the board by the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex. That federally funded agency markets the airport and has control of three of 11 appointments to the new board. Chuck Koukoulis, who operates KCI Aviation at the airport, and complex director Jim Skidmore are the remaining MAAC appointments.

Skidmore was not available to comment about a replacement appointment Wednesday afternoon.

Bean was appointed by the state Council for Community and Economic Development, which has one slot on the board.

The authority will next meet at 1 p.m. Monday at the airport terminal.

Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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