Article originally posted to Appalachian Express-News Web site http://news-expressky.com/news/article_cb713d46-1676-11e3-b400-001a4bcf887a.html
By Russ Cassady Editor | Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 5:00 am
The involvement of the Pike County Fiscal Court in a proposed project to bring daily air service to Pike County has, thus far, been limited to its approval of joining other counties in applying for funding.
However, on Tuesday, just days after the City of Pikeville and Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board approved contracts with Public Charters Inc., to begin a daily round-trip flight between Pikeville and Nashville in March, the Pike Fiscal Court approved a resolution expressing concerns about the project.
The agreements were reached Friday, with the Pikeville City Commission voting unanimously and the Airport Board voting 5-1 to approve the agreements, with board member Brent Wagner voting against the measure.
The court’s complaints
In the resolution, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the fiscal court, the county raises several issues, including:
• That the fiscal court is “disappointed and discouraged that it had no meaningful role in the discussions and/or deliberations between the City of Pikeville and the Pikeville-Pike County Regional Airport Board and Public Charters Inc.”
• That the court has “serious legal concerns” about the specific language in the agreements approved.
• That the court maintains it is the sole owner of the airport property, not a joint owner with the city and airport board, as is indicated in some language of the contracts.
• That the county has “serious reservations” about the choice of Public Charters Inc.
• That the county is concerned that the city does not have a direct agreement with the airline service provider, Corporate Flight Management; and
• That the county is concerned about liability issues. Since the county is not involved in the contract, the resolution maintains, the city could be taking on potential liability on its taxpayers, because the city, unlike the county, does not have sovereign or governmental immunity from lawsuits.
“… While this body supports the idea of commercial air service in Pike County, the issues raised herein contain serious and legitimate concerns as to the viability and legal protection of the agreements entered into and previously referenced in this resolution,” the resolution goes on to say.
The resolution does raise questions about the legality of the contracts.
However, Assistant County Attorney Roland Case said that the county is not anticipating filing legal action in regard to the agreements.
“No legal action is anticipated as a result of this resolution, this is merely the court wanting to go on record about their reservations,” Case said. “The court did want to make it clear that the property the airport is located on belongs to the county and not the city and also that the airport is operated by the Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board, not the city or the county.”
Aside from directing that the resolution be sent to the city of Pikeville and airport board, no other action was taken by the court on the matter.
The project leads fire back
On Wednesday, after reviewing the resolution, the city of Pikeville fired back, with a statement accusing Pike Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford of “undermining” the project’s progress.
“It is disappointing that when the community should be celebrating this achievement — the recruitment of commercial air service to Pikeville and Pike County — that Judge Rutherford has reprised his role to continue to question the work of many community leaders who only wish to move the region forward,” said Luke B. Schmidt, the project consultant, in the statement. “I like and respect Judge Rutherford; however, the fact remains that action taken by (the) Fiscal Court led by Judge Rutherford will continue to undermine the progress and implementation of commercial air service to the people of Pike County.
“The War on Coal makes it imperative that all of us work together to do everything in our power to create new jobs,” continued Schmidt. “The city, the airport board and the Chamber are to be commended for providing the necessary leadership to see this project through. I have no doubt that this new air service will assist in creating new, non-coal dependent jobs in Pike County while still supporting the existing coal industry.”
The statement also contained a comment from Mayor Pro Tem Jimmy Carter, speaking to the importance of the project.
“The Pikeville city Commission will continue to work hard and fight to derail any attempts to stifle our plan to improve the quality of life for those we are elected to serve and represent,” Carter said in the statement. “As the 13-county region’s center for education, employment, health care, retail shopping and transportation, citizens look to the city to create resources such as commercial air service that will enable us to grow while improving our ability to market our resources and our workforce.”
In the statement, the project supporters also break down line-by-line the resolution’s charges, including:
• The lack of county involvement. In the statement, Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn said that the county was involved in the beginning, but Rutherford chose to bow out of the project.
“It was agreed that our group would retain the services of Louisville-based consulting firm L.B. Schmidt & Associates, LLC and its president, Luke B. Schmidt,” Blackburn said. “However, when it came time to finalize the arrangement, Judge Rutherford elected to withdraw, stating he did not have the support of Fiscal Court. While we respected Judge Rutherford’s decision, the remaining three partners agreed to support the recruitment effort, which led us to the recently announced service to Nashville with Public Charters and Corporate Flight Management recognizing the benefits that this service will bring to the region.”
• The legality of the city’s role as a party to the agreement. The city, the statement said, applied for the funding which is making the project possible, and maintains it is appropriate for it to be the agency which can enter into the agreement.
“(Rutherford) opted out of this project three years ago, as such, why would he have been consulted on this project?” the statement said. “How can (Rutherford) justify taking a leadership role in this project.”
• The lack of a contract between the city and the flight operator. According to the statement, CFM is a subcontractor to Public Charters, which is the main contractor on the project.
• The issue of the lack of sovereign or governmental immunity. According to the statement, even the county does not enjoy total immunity from lawsuits, which is why the county, and city carry insurance against such matters. Public Charters, the statement said, will also be required, contractually, to carry a $25 million policy, naming the city as an “additional insured” on the policy.
• The issue of the ownership of the airport property. The statement said that the ownership of the airport is not a relevant issue because the contract is not speaking of the land exchange making the city a joint owner, but the creation of the airport board, which was done through a city/county joint action.
“As a result of this action … the airport board has been given the authority to oversee and operate every aspect of the airport including the development of commercial air service,” the statement said.
• An issue expressed by the county that Public Charters is not currently licensed to do business in Kentucky. In the statement, the project organizers said that any and all appropriate licenses which must be obtained for the service to operate will be obtained before the airline begins operation.
City taking issue to the airwaves
On Thursday, Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn took his case to the airwaves, filming an episode of the Pike-TV series “City Manager’s Report,” focused on fully explaining the operation of the airline and defending the importance of the project.
“This is something a lot of people … said could not be done,” Blackburn said. “And I believe a lot of people were surprised that it was, because this is somewhat of a new model, but it’s a proven model.
“It’s one that I know and feel very confident that will work, as long as … our community wraps its arms around it and utilitzes the service,” he continued.
Blackburn also pointed out during the filming that the funding for the project is totally based on outside sources.
“Understand that we’re not asking for one red cent from Pike County Fiscal Court or the city of Pikeville,” Blackburn said. “The money is simply coming out of the federal and state grant that would have gone somewhere else in this country or this state to benefit their economy.”
Schmidt also appeared on the program, explaining the plans for the service.
The episode is scheduled to air at 10:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, 9 p.m. on Saturday, 4 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. on Monday.