A surprise motion to appoint Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's chief of staff to executive director of the Gary/Chicago International Airport failed on a tie 3-3 vote at Friday's special meeting of the airport authority.
Authority member Alesia Pritchett made the motion to appoint B.R. Lane to the airport executive director's post immediately after the close of a public hearing on the airport's 2014 budget. The special meeting was called specifically so the hearing could be held.
The move surprised authority chairman and governor's appointee Thomas Collins, who at first said he was not prepared to accept the motion.
But Pritchett insisted and the motion was allowed. It was seconded by mayoral appointee Shontrai Irving.
Pritchett, Irving and Lake County appointee Denise Dillard voted in favor of making Lane the new airport director. Collins, mayoral appointee James Cooper and Porter County appointee Thomas Cavanaugh voted against the measure. Mayoral appointee Michael Doyne was not present.
It was only the new airport authority's second meeting. All of its members were appointed just this month. The old authority board was turned out and the new one seated under the provisions of legislation passed in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly.
Current interim Airport Director Steve Landry announced in August he would be resigning his post, with his last day of work to be this Monday. He has run the airport for three years.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson attributed the airport authority's rejection of Lane on Friday to “miscommunication” and “miscues” and not a reflection on Lane's suitability for the job of airport director. She confirmed she supports Lane for the position.
The mayor said a big part of the airport director's job now involves dealing with regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Aviation Administration. She said Lane's prior experience as head of regulatory compliance with a major gaming company makes her well suited to that task.
The mayor also pointed out Lane has been working closely with the airport since last year on the main runway expansion as well as the current drive to find a private company to manage the airport and its development.
She said Lane's lack of previous aviation experience should not hinder her on the job, as the airport's deputy director is handling day-to-day operations.
Pritchett said the airport needs someone knowledgeable in aviation to fill in the gap after Landry leaves. She said Lane would be able to continue the effort to land a public-private partnership agreement to develop the airport, a process she already has been involved in.
Collins after the meeting said he did not anticipate Pritchett's motion on appointing Lane airport director and didn't know the circumstances behind it. He said it could be dealt with at the authority's next regular meeting Sept. 30.
In April, the airport authority approved paying $30,000 to ADK Executive Search, of Atlantic Beach, Fla., to perform a nationwide search for an airport executive director. But little has been heard about the search since ads were posted for the job.
Lane currently makes $99,000 per year as Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's chief of staff. The search committee for a new airport executive director set the salary for that job at between $110,000 and $130,000.
The airport authority on Friday also welcomed new Porter County appointee Thomas Cavanaugh to the board. Cavanaugh is a Valparaiso orthodontist and licensed pilot.
The airport authority also held a public hearing Friday on a 2014 budget of $3.70 million and a cumulative building fund of $17.79 million.
The airport expects to receive about $863,112 in tax support for its general fund budget in 2014 and about $233,128 for its cumulative building fund.
The rest of the general fund is made up of income earned on leases and fees at the airport as well as some grants.
The cumulative building fund is made up mainly of government grants. Many of those grants currently go to pay for the $166 million runway expansion project.
There will be more hearings on the budget before the airport authority takes a final vote on it later in October.