Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing Wednesday of a bill giving control of Jackson-Medgar Evers International Airport and Hawkins Field to the state led Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber to pledge a constitutional challenge of the takeover.
Yarber said in an emailed statement that he will “stand up for the city’s residents when it comes to unconstitutional measures.”
The bill shifts policy making for Jackson-Evers and Hawkins Field from a mayoral-appointed airport authority to a regional board. 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, said Sen. Josh Harkins, sponsor of the Senate bill (SB 2162), in a recent interview.
He said early in the legislative session FHA has informed him the main condition for its approval of the transfer was establishment of clear guidelines to ensure grants and FAA money is awarded properly.
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.
SB 2162 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.
Yarber and other opponents call the takeover move a hijacking of a city asset. Proponents argue Jackson- Evers has languished for years and that policy-making for the airport should reflect the regional market the airport serves.
Yarber said he isn’t buying the regionalism argument and sounded ready for a legal brawl over the constitutional correctness of the takeover.
“Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing of the bill shows he has sided with the cell of lawmakers and entrepreneurs commissioned to commandeer the City’s municipal airports,” he said in his statement. “We will not yield to the legislation, but will challenge its constitutionality. Senate Bill 2162 is unconstitutional and not supported by either state or federal law.”
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