Airport Management: Suffering Fools

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The degree to which the voting public will tolerate malfeasance and incompetence in government is one of the most astonishing aspects of modern life. I sometimes wonder if this tolerance is in inverse proportion to distanceówe'll suffer fools in local government more readily than we will at the state or federal level.

And here in my little town we are suffering a mighty bout of incompetence with regard to the local airport, Venice Municipal. When NATA's Jim Coyne visited this week to lend a hand, he got an earful from local pilots and supporters of the airport. To summarize, a couple of anti-airport noise candidates got themselves elected to the council, and the airport's fortunes have been in decline ever since.

As are many others, the airport is largely self-sustaining through hangar fees and leases and businesses on the airport. Despite the council's malfeasance, it's a vibrant airport that brings millions into the local economy. The council's campaign against it began when it fired the volunteer Airport Advisory Board, which had given the council good advice on airport operations and management.

It got worse. In its efforts to diminish or even close the airport, some of the council members communicated airport/city business via private e-mail--a no-no under Florida's Sunshine law--and a Sarasota activist found out about it. He sued the city and defending the lawsuit has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars it can ill afford to spend, all because the voters elected rank amateurs with a single-issue agenda that they have pursued relentlessly.

Further, the city's bumbling oversight of the airport has made it a laughingstock in the state airport community. While other airports have landed millions in FAA improvement grants, Venice has gotten nothing. The grants are there for the asking, but the city has actively not asked, costing more millions, not to mention badly needed jobs.

It will get worse if the FAA does its job and takes the city to court over numerous issues related to airport planning and oversight. Coyne, who has seen all this before, said he's a big believer in regional airport authorities and in that context, the local airport would be taken over by the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority--actual professionals with experience in managing and promoting airports. For most of us, this can't happen fast enough.

You get there, says Coyne, by political means. That means pressuring the local leaders to make the right public policy decisions instead of wasting public money waging futile battles that they will inevitably lose. And that's the positive side of local politics--it really doesn't take much to unelect the politically incompetent.

Coyne reiterated something AOPA's Craig Fuller said recently: All of this takes involvement by pilots and aircraft owners. I'll be the first to admit I've never been a big believer in this because I'm too slammed by work. But I'm coming around. I'm trying to find more time to volunteer at least some time to assist those doing the heavy lifting in protecting this airport. Frankly, it's not too much to ask.

To do anything less is to invite more of the same.

Comments (5)

Paul... This is not about an airport... it's about money and power. Make the argument (to the taxpayers) that these local leaders are costing the locals too much in taxpayer dollars through their incompetence. Trust me there are other things beside the airport where they have stumbled.

I,( had a lot of taxpayer help) got a whole city council recalled in Colorado over what they thought was a golf course.

Trust me, I've been there.

Posted by: David Spencer | February 25, 2010 3:33 PM    Report this comment

Years ago, when the river boat casinos were first opened, there waa a rumor that the "powers-that-be" were planning to close DTN and build a golf course & resort type operation. All the land between the airport & the casino area had been quietly "acquired" by folks in-the know in anticipation of that happening. It never came to pass, for whatever reason.

Posted by: Steve Wilson | March 1, 2010 7:44 AM    Report this comment

Part of the problem in Venice is that the airport sits in the City of Venice, a rather small part of a small surrounding area under the control of Sarasota County. The City seems to be inhabited by a large percent of anti-airport people who elect these anti-airport council members. Then there is the problem of "snowbirds" who have no voting rights. Talk about taxation without representation! Hopefully the FAA will step in and do something. The local Venice paper indicates that this may come sooner than later.

Posted by: Rich Bond | March 1, 2010 8:01 AM    Report this comment

Being involved with a local pilots group (200+)that was formed at our local airport several years ago, we have had to face attempted take overs. We are fortunate to have a taxing authority which caused the Airport Authority to be separate from the County Government and the Board's focus is the Airport. Several years ago a "crooked" Commissioner was elected to the County Commission and the fight was on. I think he had the sight of Condos dancing in his head. The Airport Commission didn't know what hit them and were ill prepared for the battle. The Pilot's group got together and completely filled the Commission meeting that was attempting to place the take-over of the airport on the ballot. Speaker after speaker railed against the "minority" that was backing the attempt, the Airport did leave victorious, but bloodied. The point is that the Airport is used by tens of thousands and the distractors are always few. But no one wants to take a side. Even the Airport Commissioners run on a "no airport tax" platform year after year. Not smart, when the only one or two protesters show up at the meetings, if at all. There are far more of using the asset than those bitching about something they know nothing about. I would say in our case 500,000 to 6. May be only a couple and easy to be lulled into complacency as those termites knaw away at the foundation and lord help you if one gets elected...another story.

Posted by: Chuck West | March 1, 2010 8:50 AM    Report this comment

Waiting for a flight to D.C., I noticed two very obese people eating a huge McD feast. Guess who they sat next too. I'm 5'10" 190. I was on the window, the man sat down sideways so his wife could sit down. I couldn't have gotten out of my seat for any reason. Luckily the flight was not full and the FA reseated them. Everyone around me applauded. I don't care how fat people got fat. My guess is that most of them did it by putting a fork in their mouth. The rest of society shouldn't have to put up with their lack of discipline when it comes to food. SWA is right, the majority need to be protected from the minority.

Posted by: Donald Stein | March 3, 2010 9:55 AM    Report this comment

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