Indiana Sen. Ed Charbonneau's legislation for Gary reforms, Senate Bill 585, is running into opposition in Northwest Indiana because of its proposed restructuring of the Gary/Chicago International Airport board of directors. This board revamp could be used as leverage to bring needed support for Northwest Indiana.
Under the proposal by Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, the board would be restructured much like other regional entities, including the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
In the airport's case, Gary would still appoint four members, but the board would be expanded from seven to 11 members. The boards of commissioners in Lake and Porter counties would each appoint a member. The governor would appoint the other five, but the governor's choices would be limited along these lines:
- One member from three people nominated by the mayors of Hammond, Crown Point and East Chicago. Each mayor's selection is limited to residents of their own city.
- One member from among two people nominated by the mayors of Portage and Valparaiso. The same residency rule applies.
- One person to serve as chairperson.
- Two additional members, each of whom must have knowledge of and at least five years professional work experience in aviation, regional economic development or business or finance.
The legislation further requires that major board actions include the chairperson's approval, giving that appointee virtual control over major board decisions on personnel, real estate and finances.
A reaction to this in Gary is calling for the city to have a supermajority of board members. The city should indeed have a major presence on the board, but not a supermajority. That would defeat the purpose of assuring regional support for the airport that has evolved into a regional asset.
Gary has supported the airport faithfully since it was first opened. Major state and regional support has gone into this regional economic engine as well.
Before approval is given to this change in the board's structure, the state must promise to continue to have skin in this game. In other words, the state must commit to continued, long-term financial support for the RDA, which has been a driving force behind the current airport expansion project.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation. As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Kenley has the power to make sure the RDA gets the money it needs to continue to support not only the airport but other major regional economic development and transportation projects as well.
What begun as a municipal airport but has evolved into a regional asset. Make sure the airport's board reflects that, and make sure the RDA is able to continue its mission of leveraging state and local dollars to attract federal and other funds to Northwest Indiana projects that promise to be game-changers.