Airport resignations could cloud vote

2014-01-26T00:00:00Z 2014-01-27T16:04:16Z Airport resignations could cloud voteBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority is approaching a momentous vote on the airport's future lacking a governor's appointee and a key regional representative.

The authority's remaining five members are set to vote Monday on a 40-year privatization contract without gubernatorial appointee Tom Collins Sr., whose resignation takes effect Sunday, and Porter County representative Tom Cavanaugh, who resigned earlier this month.*

State Rep. Ed Soliday, chairman of the House Transportation and Roads committee, last week said he believes it is important to have a governor's appointee participating in the vote as well as the Porter County representative.

"If you are going to be partners with the state and the RDA, you would want those people there for a vote this important," Soliday said.

Gov. Mike Pence's office had not responded by Friday to a request for information on his appointment. Even if Pence does appoint someone, it would appear that person will have little time to examine the more than 200 pages of contracts involved in the deal.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Friday she understood Pence was working to find a replacement for Collins, but the vote on the public-private partnership deal could proceed on Monday even if the appointment is not made.

"There have been so many fits and starts over the last 40 years in the city of Gary, people have become almost jaded and expect things won't get done," Freeman-Wilson said. "This shows we can plan, formulate a deal and execute."

The agenda for Monday's 10 a.m. Airport Authority meeting has it conducting a public hearing on a deal to give Aviation Facilities Company Inc., of Dulles, Va., the exclusive right to develop real estate on and around the airport for the next 40 years. In addition, an AFCO subsidiary would receive a 10-year contract with up to 30 years of extensions to run the airport.

The Airport Authority can take its historic vote as soon as that hearing is done.

Four of the remaining five authority members who can vote on the deal are appointees of the mayor. Freeman-Wilson's four appointees are James Cooper, Michael Doyne, Shontrai Irving and Alesia Pritchett. The Lake County appointee is Denise Dillard.

Cooper, the panel's vice president, will chair Monday's meeting, according to airport spokesman James Ward.

All current members of the Airport Authority took office in September when the former authority board was turned out under reform legislation passed by the General Assembly.

So far, Collins is the only one to express outright opposition to the terms of the public-private partnership deal. He cast the lone vote against it at a Dec. 23 meeting when the authority approved its terms by a 5-1 vote.

Collins said he felt a better deal could be struck for the airport and city. He has also said the authority members had not had time to properly consider the deal.

"I just thought it's a very monumental decision and I didn't want to accept the term sheet until as a board we had more time to discuss it," Collins said.

Porter County Board of Commissioners President John Evans said he thinks its imperative Porter County have someone at the table when the votes on the public-private partnership are cast.

He pointed out Porter County contributes $3.5 million to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which in turn has contributed about $40 million to the Gary airport expansion project.

Evans said he still thinks the Airport Authority should be governed on a truly regional basis. He also favors giving the governor's appointee effective veto power on the authority.

"How can you call it a regional airport when the appointments are not done more fairly than they are now?" Evans said.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Name incorrect: An incorrect name was given in a story Sunday about a former Porter County appointee to the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority. Tom Cavanaugh is the former Porter County appointee. The Times regrets the error.

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