General, Retired Deputy Volunteer For Airport Board

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A U.S. Air Force Major General who helped direct the war in Iraq and a retired deputy sheriff with 23 years flying experience have volunteered to serve on the Payson Regional Airport Board of Directors.

If the Payson Town Council puts retired Major General James Hunt and former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Denis Parish on the approved list on Thursday, the appointments could help heal a traumatic rift on the volunteer board.

The top-flight appointments come at a crucial moment for the battle-scarred airport board.

A disagreement about extending hangar leases that mushroomed into a fight about whether board members had improperly extended their terms has roiled the airport board for the past six months.

The town council resolved the dispute at its last meeting by ruling that the board members could continue to serve until properly replaced, even after their term had expired.

The long argument led to the resignations of two of the longest-serving board members — fighter pilot Dick Mumma and architect Gary Spragins. Both had played a leading role in the development of the airport’s $10-million master plan, which would enable the airport to increase take-offs and landings by about 50 percent to around 66,000.

The dispute threatened to disrupt the airport’s newfound momentum and its much-improved relations with the Payson council, which established the semi-independent Airport Authority to take over management of the airport. The move saved the town about $100,000 annually in staff costs, but the town retains technical ownership of the airport and legal responsibility for the actions of the volunteer board.

The two new board volunteers bring distinguished credentials to the effort to keep the airport operations smooth.

Hunt retired in August as deputy commanding general, I Corps, U.S. Forces-Iraq. That position gave him broad responsibility for coordinating U.S. operations with Iraqi operations.

Hunt entered the Air Force in 1976 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and has logged 3,000 hours as a pilot in six different types of planes. His commands included three different Air Force wings, each with some 500 personnel and $100-million budgets. At one point responsible for all U.S. Army aviation operations in Iraq, he managed a flight schedule of 200 combat flights a day.

He also developed a plan for the massive Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, which increased aircraft parking capacity by 500 percent in a year.

Parish has been flying nearly as long as Hunt — but mostly in the sort of small planes that use the Payson Airport.

The son of a World War II B-17 bomber pilot, Parish learned to fly in 1987 in a Piper Cherokee 140.

Parish retired eight years ago from a 33-year career as a deputy sheriff — although he had previously worked at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, Calif.

He spent some 15 years as a uniformed patrol deputy before his promotion to detective, a post he held for another 15 years.

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