By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The recent rift between city and airport officials over a host of issues from mistrust to miscommunication ultimately could benefit both entities, representatives of each side said.
“In the long run, I’m glad it happened the way it happened,” said City Council President Fred Pitts, who expressed optimism for a better relationship with the Tupelo Regional Airport and its governing board, the Tupelo Airport Authority.
Although the airport maintains a separate budget from the city, it’s still a quasi-government agency whose director is considered a municipal department head. The airport also regularly asks for and receives financial support from the city.
One of the latest funding requests came last month, when airport Director Josh Abramson asked the city for roughly $49,000 as a match on a $1.8 million federal grant.
City Council members typically approve such requests, but this time they rejected it in a 5-2 vote that capped allegations of poor management and a lack of transparency.
“I do believe there is some mistrust between the airport authority and this council to some degree,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell during the Aug. 21 vote, “and that has an impact on some of these decisions here.”
Pitts and Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington had been alone in their support of the grant and its match, with Pitts actively lobbying for it and chastising his colleagues’ dissent.
Council members eventually reversed their decision one week later after a 90-minute meeting with Abramson and the Tupelo Airport Authority. The session quelled many concerns but still left some unanswered questions.
Airport officials vowed to illuminate any dark spots and are organizing a follow-up meeting, as well as a tour of the facility.
Authority Chairman Ty Robinson expressed hope the two entities can strengthen their ties.
“In this case it didn’t start off too well, but now we’re all talking, which is wonderful,” Robinson said. “I’m all for transparency. They need to know what we’re doing, and we need to hear from them, too.”