DOBSON — A meeting which started out contentiously paved the way forward for the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.
On Wednesday evening, the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority, in its new form, met for the first time at the Surry County Government Center, where board members took steps which will allow the county to manage the finances and oversee the daily operations at the airport.
The meeting was held two days after the members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners appointed themselves to serve in five vacant positions on the authority. Those positions became vacant when three county-appointed authority members were asked to resign by county officials and two others received word they would not be reappointed to their positions.
The two members of the seven-member airport board appointed by the city of Mount Airy, Greg Perkins and Dr. Thomas Jackson, remained on the board.
With the exodus of members, all officer positions on the airport board were also vacated. Thus, the first order of business for the new board was to appoint new officers. After board member and County Commissioner Buck Golding motioned to appoint Commissioner Eddie Harris, the county board chair, to serve as chair of the authority, one city appointee voiced his dissent.
“What are your qualifications?” asked Jackson, who noted he has been involved at the airport for more than four decades. “Are you a pilot? Are you an instrument-rated pilot?”
Harris is neither. Commissioners Van Tucker, Larry Johnson and Larry Phillips are also not pilots, though Phillips has some aviation knowledge which resulted from taking flight lessons. Golding is a retired commercial pilot.
Jackson explained that he believes a person serving as chair of the authority should posses aviation knowledge and know the intricacies of Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
Alluding to Golding, he also noted that the aviation knowledge should be current and an understanding of how to run a major business can also be an asset. For years, the authority had that sort of knowledge at the helm in leaders such as John Springthorpe.
“I don’t understand your rationale for booting these people,” said Jackson. “If the did something illegal, I didn’t see it.”
Jackson said he believes Surry County’s airport to be one of the best in the state, explaining that it is a “conduit for Surry County businesses” which operate planes based at the airport.
After voicing his support for the runway expansion project underway at the airport and noting he can land his own plane in a backyard if need be, Jackson returned to the subject of ousting the five members.
“A travesty has been done by eliminating qualified people,” said Jackson.
Looking at commissioners, the dentist added, “It’s like putting you in my office and asking you to perform oral surgery.”
Johnson told Jackson that commissioners don’t need to be pilots to run the airport. The board will surround itself with qualified people.
Those statements came after some pointed remarks between the two officials, however.
“Mr. Jackson,” began Johnson in addressing Jackson.
“Doctor,” Jackson shot back.
“OK, Tom,” answered Johnson.
Jackson also warned that the county may find itself paying for services from people knowledgeable about airports. In the past, that knowledge has come at no cost, since the volunteer board was comprised of pilots.
After the exchange, the authority voted to make Harris chair of the airport board and Tucker vice chair. Conchita Atkins, who is the clerk to the board of commissioners, will serve as clerk to the authority, and county Finance Officer Sarah Bowen will also serve as the airport’s finance officer.
The authority also approved a contract with the county which will purchase the county’s financial management services.
Bowen explained that her office will, in whole, manage the finances of the airport. Everything which her office does for county government, it will also do for the authority.
“Having served as treasurer, I think $5,000 is more than fair,” said Perkins of the county’s proposed charge for the services.
He also noted the authority might be able to recoup those monies as a result of lowering its costs for an external audit. Auditors may give a better rate if they are working with professionals as they analyze the airport’s books.
Another side of the contract regarded management at the airport.
County Manager Chris Knopf explained that a designated county employee will touch base with RA-Tech, the fixed base operator at the airport, on a daily basis.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.