By NEMS Daily Journal
The lack of trust between a majority of the Tupelo City Council and the Tupelo Airport Authority is a condition both sides need to work hard to overcome.
If communication is the problem, as several council members indicated, then Monday’s scheduled work session between the two entities is an opportunity to begin addressing that issue.
At stake immediately and potentially in the future are millions of dollars in federal funds to upgrade the airport, an important element of Tupelo’s future economic development prospects.
The council earlier this week refused to provide $48,854 in city money required to secure a $1.85 million Federal Aviation Administration grant that airport Executive Director Josh Abramson called the “linchpin” in the facility’s master plan for improvements. This highly unusual council action – turning down funding to benefit a key city asset – is troubling.
It’s unclear how much of this dispute is owed to the continuing fallout over the dismissal of Abramson’s predecessor, Terry Anderson, nearly three years ago and to Anderson’s insistence that the airport isn’t being run properly, but it unquestionably factors into the situation. Progress at the airport doesn’t need to be hamstrung by lingering personnel issues.
Council members who have concerns about this grant or the airport in general need to address them directly to authority members who, in turn, are obligated to fully answer their questions. This doesn’t mean a witch hunt, but it does mean full transparency.
Once the air is cleared and the questions answered, the council will be obligated to justify any continued refusal to accept the grant beyond a perceived lack of communication from airport officials. It must act by Monday at midnight or the grant will be lost.
A viable, well-run airport – preferably with reliable passenger service, a struggle lately – is a necessary economic development tool for Tupelo and the region. That’s the only real reason to have an airport in the first place: to stimulate business and job growth, and thus tax revenues.
Airport officials should be judged on how well they carry that out, and a big part of the job includes finding the funding to keep the facility where it needs to be. In these days of scarcity in available public resources, turning down $1.85 million for needed improvements would be a head-scratcher.
The taxpayers have the right to expect the council and airport to work together to improve communication, iron out their differences and reach solutions that benefit the city and surrounding area.