Airport Management: Suffering Fools
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 distanceŚwe'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.