Payson Settles Airport Board Civil War

Fight over legality of airport board crashlands on agenda

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The Payson Town Council last week imposed a peace treaty to end a civil war that has raged on the Payson Regional Airport Authority board of directors since July.

The council validated the terms of three members of the airport board, brushing off claims that the board members had violated their bylaws when they voted to reappoint themselves after their terms expired.

The dispute has spawned months of quarreling, resignations of several board members and a lapse into confusion, just when the airport seemed to have a little lift under its wings.

The council in essence sided with the majority faction on the board, when Town Attorney Tim Wright said that under state law they could continue to exercise power after their terms expired.

The dispute dates back to July when four members of the airport board reappointed three of them to a second, two-year term. The airport board appoints its own members off a list approved by the council.

However, the terms of three of the board members had expired three weeks earlier. Moreover, several members of the board not present later said the bylaws require a 71-percent majority of the seven-member board to make appointments.

The dissident members said the board needed five votes, but the board majority said they just needed a 71-percent majority of those present and voting.

The dispute touched off recriminations, the formation of a rival board, appeals to the town council and finally the council’s intervention last week.

Dick Mumma, a former Air Force fighter pilot and longtime supporter of the airport, told the council Thursday he had raised the questions to protect the airport and the town from legal problems in signing contracts. He said any question about the legitimacy of the board could alienate the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mumma had the support of then-board member Gary Spragins, an architect who played a leading role in developing the $10-million plan to upgrade the airport. The airport master plan involves building a wider taxiway to improve safety, upgrading the restaurant, providing meeting rooms and increasing the number of airport-related businesses and industrial developments.

Spragins later resigned, amid the rising level of conflict.

Mumma said he also intended to resign, no matter how the council ruled. He said he wanted the board to make the appointments in an open, public meeting that gave people a chance to apply for any open positions.

However, other board members who attended the Thursday council meeting said they felt the objections really represented an attempt to take over the board.

The members of the majority faction said they felt the real issue revolved around a debate about extending an expiring lease of a hangar decided by the board on a 4-3 vote.

In the course of the dispute, the two factions essentially set up rival boards, each claiming to legally represent the airport authority. During the deadlock, the original board accepted Spragins’ resignation and voted Mumma off the board.

On Thursday, the town council sided with the board members who had reappointed themselves back in July.

Wright said state law clearly says that the board members whose terms had expired would remain legal board members until they were properly replaced.

The town attorney didn’t offer an opinion on whether the airport board’s bylaws required five votes to make an appointment, or just a 71-percent majority of members present.

The council will still have to approve the new board members appointed by the reconstituted board at a future meeting.

Airport President Jon Barber said the board will hold another, posted, public meeting to appoint or reappoint the current slate of board members. He said he will have to research the bylaws to determine how many votes it will take.

The dustup represented a setback, after big gains in the past year in building town and community support.

Payson owns the airport and used to run it directly, but several years ago established the Airport Authority to give airport users more control and cut the cost of running the airport.

The move saved the town about $100,000 annually, but ushered in a period of intermittent confusion, as the town council and the airport board worked out their relationship.

That rough period seemed resolved last year when the council and the board met jointly to adopt the master plan.

The plan would enable the airport to accommodate a projected increase in takeoffs and landings from 40,000 to 66,000 and a nearly 50-percent increase in the number of planes that could rent hangar space.

A 2002 impact study by the Arizona Department of Transportation concluded the airport interjects $20 million into the local economy annually, generating 62 jobs directly and 68 jobs indirectly.

After relying entirely on the volunteer efforts of the board and airport users for several years, the airport board recently hired Beth Myers as the new, full-time airport supervisor.

People on both board factions said that Myers had deep support in the airport community, and her appointment was never an issue.

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