By TED CARTER
The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority has hired Phelps Dunbar lawyer Fred Banks Jr. to handle litigation that could arise over a possible state takeover of governance of Jackson’s airports.
Banks would not confirm the hiring.
However, Airport Authority board minutes show members enlisted the help of Banks well before Sen. Josh Harkins of Flowood introduced his bill to transfer governance of Jackson’s airports to a state-appointed board.
Minutes of the Dec. 21 meeting show the board brought Banks on board “to secure an analysis of proposed legislation that seeks to prevent JMAA from carrying its fiduciary duties and responsibilities of operating a commercial airport for the public pursuant to the Airport Operating Certificate issued to it by the Federal Aviation Administration.” Banks, a former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, is also to “advise the board on “ramifications of such legislation,” the minutes state.
Sen. John Horhn of Jackson said his understanding is that Banks’ duties include representing the Airport Authority in court, if necessary.
Litigation threats came up time and again during the March 3 debate on Harkins’ bill, coming largely from Horhn and Sen. David Blount, also of Jackson.
Both sides concede litigation could prevent progress on attracting a new low-cost carrier to Jackson Evers International and commercially developing hundreds of acres the Airport Authority owns around the commercial airport.
“The question is, are the proponents willing to let the airport languish?” Hohrn said.
Blount said last Friday Harkins and others who want to remove the Airport Authority’s policy control in a “hostile takeover” should know the consequences.
Further, Jackson and its citizens “should defend their rights.” he said.
Hohrn said it is unclear who would initiate the lawsuits – the Airport Authority, the Jackson City Council or both.
“”They need to find out which parties have standing to file in federal Court,” he said.
The senator, who is African-American, said if it looks as if the takeover bill will pass the House, the House Black Caucus may put a slowdown on House business, as it did last week over House plans to redraw districts for the Public Service Commission.
“If there is a way to avoid the process of a shutdown again, they are willing to have that conversation,” he said of his Caucus counterparts.
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