• 72°

Who is right person to pilot commission?

Even though I love my neighbor, I am not sure I would want her to help run the airport.

Miss Nell is a smart woman. She keeps up with what is happening on our street and in our community.

Despite her wealth of experience, I don’t think she knows a lot about planes, hangars and what it takes to keep the Natchez-Adams County Airport running.

Even still, it appears that Miss Nell is more qualified to be on the airport commission than many of the men and women who use the airfield in the north part of the county on a regular basis.

Tuesday morning, one member of the airport commission resigned after voting to fire the airport director.

Much of the controversy surrounding the airport commission hinges on an inquiry filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission concerning the commission and conflicts of interest.

The ethics commission responded to a question about whether airport commission members can “be employed by an airport vendor, purchase fuel from the airport commission or lease a hanger from the airport commission.”

The short answer to the inquiry is “No.” Mississippi law prohibits airport commission members from doing business with the commission — which includes renting hangar space or buying fuel, the ethics commission opinion stated.

To prevent commission members from taking advantage of their positions, the law prohibits members of public boards from having any direct or indirect interest in contracts funded by the board.

Makes sense. Right?

Further consideration makes me wonder.

If those who use the airport, know how the airport runs and want to see the airport succeed are not eligible to sit on the airport commission then who is?

One answer is my neighbor Miss Nell. By state law, she is more eligible than any of the pilots and port stakeholders to sit on the board.

But does that make sense?

Some residents have strong backgrounds in business with little or no connection to the airport, which would make good members of any of the county’s public boards.

But I believe those with the greatest knowledge about the airport and who use the county’s facilities regularly are the ones who are the most qualified to run the place. 

Although the state ethics commission did not offer an opinion on who is most suited to run the airport it did offer a suggestion.

“Members of an advisory group which has no authority to enter into contracts … are free to contract with the airport, buy fuel from the airport and lease hangars at the airport, because such an advisory group would not authorize any of those transactions,” the opinion states.

Such a move would require the Board of Supervisors to take control of the contractual obligations of the airport — a step that would shift the responsibility of the airport to the board.

“In light of potential violations outlined (in the opinion), the board may wish to revise the powers of the airport commission by making it advisory only and reclaiming the authority to contract,” the ethics commission stated.

Such a move would allow the stakeholder of the airport to continue to have a voice and still meet state law.

The question is whether the supervisors want to take on the responsibility.

Ben Hillyer is news editor for The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-597-3642 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.