There are a couple of relevant things the taxpayers of Gadsden and Etowah County should be aware of regarding the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport.
A friend of mine recently did research on the major airports in Alabama. The Gadsden Airport Authority is the only board of directors in the state that is paid for their services. No stipends are paid to the boards of directors of airports like Dothan Regional, Fairhope, Gulf Shores, Huntsville Executive, Mobile, Pell City, Prattville and Marion just to name a few.
The largest airports in the state — Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International, Huntsville International, Mobile Regional and Montgomery Regional Airport (Dannelly Field) — do not compensate their directors.
While modest, GAA members receive $120 per meeting and the chairman of the board $240 for his services.
So, having said that, you would expect a vision and a five-year infrastructure plan that addresses the needs of the pilots that use the airport, and potential economic development at the site. Under the GAA’s present leadership, however, there is not even a one-year plan.
A prime example is the latest federal grants made to airports of Alabama. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, announced Federal Aviation Administration grants to 26 airports in Alabama. The grants ranged from $1,575,000 for Huntsville Executive Airport to $62,000 for the Bay Minette Municipal Airport.
Gadsden’s airport got nothing; did the GAA even seek grants for airport infrastructure improvements?
According to my friend’s research, of the 21-plus GAA members, present and former, six worked for the city. Two had companies that did contract work for the airport. Six worked on other boards within the city. Two were former city council members and only three had aviation experience. The latter fact explains many of the problems surrounding the airport, and why those problems continue.
There is one organization that has a glaring deficit of responsibility when it comes to airport operations: the Gadsden City Council. And it actually isn’t the council’s fault.
The lack of knowledge of airport operations and the council’s legal responsibility was glaringly obvious, as the GAA’s $400,000 bill to the Birmingham law firm was a shock to the council. I don’t think the members understood their legal obligation as a co-sponsor of the airport; I doubt it had been explained by city officials.
I believe the following is a given, based on the obligations under Alabama law spelled out in Title 4, Chapter 3 of the state code: The City of Gadsden has ultimate responsibility for the affairs of the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport, including all financial obligations.
And I fear the council is in for another shock, because I doubt the fees from the Birmingham law firm are finalized and no one has thought to ask for an estimate of a second billing. And Gadsden’s taxpayers will again be asked to foot the bill.
John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions reflected are his own.
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: John F. Floyd revisits airport controversies