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Guest view: Time for Benton City Council to stand up over future of airport

Submitted by Tom Carter
Airport board member
updated: 9/6/2017 11:21 AM

It has been almost 16 months since several people, including myself, were placed on the Benton Airport Board to find out what was going on within it. Well, to include everything that has been exposed and relate the details would require the length spent on Cairo's Housing Authority.

The following are some of the issues brought to light: missing agendas, missing meeting minutes, duplicated meeting minutes, voting without a quorum, signing contracts meant to be signed by the mayor, and U.S. Department of Transportation Procurement Standards not used. These are the main issues to date, and they all lead to the same place -- that the airport board was an illegal board!

In the 1940s, the city council gave total power and autonomy to the airport board, making it an authority board. The problem with this is that a municipality cannot give its power away. Back when the city council drafted the airport's ordinance, home rule was not even thought of, so it was illegal then.

Even after the city of Benton became a home rule community, the ordinance was not worth the paper it was printed on. The city looked only at the Illinois Municipal Code and did not check into the federal or state laws and regulations that would negate this taking away of power. It was not difficult to figure this out; all I had to do was ask the FAA a few questions.

The email I received from Rhonda Baskett, special programs manager of the Division of Aeronautics in Springfield, was the first to clearly clarify that all agreements for airport projects had to be signed by the mayor. This information was true to the process of "procurement" given me by the U.S. Department of Transportation, FAA for Engineering Contracts.

If the clarity of her explanation was not enough, Robert Hahn, an airport planning engineer and airspace specialist for the Illinois Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics in Springfield, sent me a copy of the Airport Commissioner's Handbook. This handbook helps define a lot of the "need-to-know" information for an authoritative board. In it, page 19 spells out who the authoritative body is over an airport. In just a few simple words, it is the city council!

On Aug. 28, the mayor and city attorney decided it was time to take action and write an ordinance correcting the current airport board that strips it of all authoritative power and reclassifies it as an advisory board.

They also discussed reducing the number of members from seven to five. In my opinion, no non-elected board should ever have free reign with the future of its citizens.

The I-57 frontage property must be utilized for business purposes for the town's growth. If not, the airport will only benefit a select few with millions of federal, local and state tax dollars being spent on those few.

So, city council members, now that through the efforts of some concerned citizens you have been given back your airport, what will you do to make future businesses in the I-57 area a reality? How will you re-shape it to promote growth for the future of Benton?

To my fellow citizens, I ask you to be vocal in inquiring why any council member would seek to give away not just their authority, but yours as well in the long run, in order to escape their past obligations. No matter what their reasons, always question the motives behind such an action!

I do not speak for the following people, but the public should be aware of their commitment to Benton: Rocky Morris, who drug me into this mess with him and is an true advocate for Benton; and Julie Payne Hubbler, who diligently and professionally obtained a binding attorney general's ruling stating that there were not two separate entities in the city council and airport board, only one.