Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Airport Bond Postmortem – Were There Warning Signs?

A lot of taxpayer money was wasted on the idea and execution of the airport bond from the moment the first consultant was hired in 2019. Were there signs that the city council would go on to spend $4M on consultants alone? Did we just miss the signs?

Were public hearings missed? Are there even public hearings for consultants? If not, would there be a total amount that might trigger a public hearing? Are there explicit wording requirements for the spending that can be seen on agenda items that aren’t public hearing items? Does the secret nature of this kind of economic development actually prevent public input and involvement?

The good news is that Mr. Grimes, the city manager, helped answer my questions. The bad news is that there was really no way for us to know what was coming. I know that when looked into the agenda items they were vague. Nor were there any ways we could have gotten involved in the decision-making process. That must change, or we’ll end up in this situation again.

I will just cut and paste his emailed answer because it is inclusive of all my questions:

"I have reviewed the approvals you reference below.  The consent agenda is where you will find many of our ordinances amending the budget and resolutions authorizing the City Manager to sign contracts.  While there is not a set contract amount threshold that, when crossed, requires an item to be moved to the regular agenda, larger contracts sometimes do get placed on the regular agenda to allow for a staff presentation.  Consent items are still on the public agenda, and the City Council can always request that a consent agenda item be pulled down for discussion.  If a member of the public wished for an item to be pulled down from consent and be considered individually, they can certainly speak at the public comment period and/or send a note to the council in advance requesting so.  My hunch is that at least one member of the council would grant such request, and every council member has the ability to exercise that discretion.


Below are the agenda items relating to the east side EA and the east side programming documents.  Of these items, the only public hearing was held during the TIRZ 2 Board meeting where $2 million was approved towards the programming document process.  Airport Director Ken Carley presented during this meeting and explained the request for TIRZ funding.


12/7/21 City Council Meeting – Agenda Item #21-1072 (consent) – Ordinance amending budget providing $550,000 for East Side Environmental Assessment

12/7/21 City Council Meeting – Agenda Item #21-1080 (consent) – Resolution approving contract with Garver for East Side Environmental Assessment


1/4/22 TIRZ 2 Board Meeting – Agenda Item #21-1183 (public hearing) – Resolution authorizing $2.0 million in TIRZ funds for East Side Programing Documents

1/4/22 City Council Meeting – Agenda Item #21-1170 (consent) Ordinance amending budget providing $1.5 million from Airport Operating Fund Balance and $2.0 million from TIRZ 2 Fund Balance for East Side Programming Documents.

1/4/22 City Council Meeting – Agenda Item #21-1173 (consent) – Resolution approving contract with Garver for East Side Programming Documents


3/7/23 City Council Meeting – Agenda Item #21-0166 (consent) – Ordinance amending budget appropriating $234,000 from the Airport Construction Fund balance to Airport Long Range Planning"

How many people would know what "East Side Programming Documents" meant? I know I thought they were talking about the runway extension that we already knew about.

If we asked our city council members what was going on at the time of the first or second consultant authorization, how many would have told us that they were in the planning stages of another airport bond, especially if they considered the airport an economic development that possibly included secret negotiations? It would be interesting to get their thoughts on this question. 

Transparency must be improved, especially in the case of consultants—any consultants.

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