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Expect selection of new Jackson airports board right after bill signing

airport boardBy TED CARTER

The author of the successful Senate bill to transfer control of Jackson’s airports to a state board with metro-wide representation expects appointments to the new board will begin soon after Gov. Phil Bryant signs the bill.

“I would assume that they will appoint right away,” said Sen. Josh Harkins, a Flowood Republican whose bill, SB 2162, led to often-times angry debate in both legislative bodies before gaining final passage in the House Friday on a 74-46 vote. The measure gives an expanded regional board policy control over Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and the Hawkins Field general aviation airport.

Harkins said the bill does not have to return to the Senate for further debate. His concurrence with changes made by the House is sufficient to send it to Gov. Bryant, Harkins said.

The bill that passed the House specifies nine members: two Jackson residents appointed by the governor; one Jackson resident appointed by the lieutenant governor; one Jackson resident appointed by Jackson’s mayor; one Jackson resident appointed by Jackson’s City Council; one appointment by the Rankin County Board of Supervisors; one appointment by the Madison County Board of Supervisors; the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority or designee; the Mississippi adjutant general or designee.

The appointments might come quickly but seating of the nine-member board most likely will have to wait for the outcome of federal court litigation.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority hired Phelps Dunbar’s Fred Banks as soon as it got word of Harkins legislative plans back in December. Banks, a former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, has declined to confirm the reason for his hiring. Airport officials have limited their information on the hiring to statements in the Dec. 21 minutes.

The board is hiring Banks and the Phelps Dunbar firm, the minutes state, “to perform legal services for JMAA as to certain legal matters regarding which Justice Banks has extensive expertise.”

The board did the hiring through its general counsel The Walker Group, which presumably will handle the billing of the Airport Authority for Banks’ services.

Sen. John Horhn of Jackson said in an interview after Senate passage of the bill that the Authority board hired Banks solely to fight elimination of its policy making responsibilities.

Horhn indicated the Airport Authority is willing to let airport projects stall as the price of keeping control, though he said proponents of the airport takeover would be to blame for holding up efforts to gain a low-cost carrier and commercially develop land around the airport . “The question is, Are the proponents willing to let the airport languish?” Horhn said during the Senate debate that ended with a 29-18 vote in favor of Harkins’ legislation.

Horhn said he thinks the first step for the Airport Authority is to find out whether it or the City of Jackson has the standing to initiate action in federal court.

Debate on the bill centered on the arguments of supporters that policy making for Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport should reflect the region the airport serves. Opponents, including the entire Jackson legislative delegation, argued the policy-making transfer amounted to a “taking” of something created and owned by Jackson.


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