Bill to give legislators oversight of airports stirs flap in Northeast TN

Legislation introduced by Rep. Matthew Hill and Sen. Steve Southerland would create a board of state legislators to oversee – and overrule, if they wish – decisions made by regional airport authorities. The bill involves the Tri-Cities Airport Authority’s use of a $4.1 million state grant and is stirring controversy in Northeast Tennessee.

The Johnson City Press reports that surprised airport authority officials were not consulted on the measure (HB2602) and are opposed.

Authority Chairman Jon Smith said he found out about the bill when he read about it in the newspaper.…“I don’t understand the motivation behind the filing and what its objectives are. However, I can say that from the standpoint of the authority, we can see no advantages to ceding local control over our airport to Nashville.”

The legislation creates an executive board of legislators required to approve all actions of authority boards and forbids the authorities from hiring lobbyists.

Hill, a Republican representing the 7th House District, said he filed it because he and the other members of the Northeast Tennessee delegation wanted to ensure the board was prudently using taxpayer funding, including a $4.1 million state grant for an aerospace park planned for land adjacent to the airport.

“With the advancement of the Aerospace Park and the recent funding allocated to see the project move forward, it is our responsibility to ensure that there are no further obstacles standing in the way of the progress this project has made,” Hill said in a statement from area lawmakers. “This legislation is the next logical step in the evolution of the airport because it ensures transparency and that we are all being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) tells the Bristol Herald-Courier that he and Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) were also not consulted prior to the filing of the bill by Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Southerland (R-Morristown).

“I have no concerns with the way the authority has operated over the years and, quite frankly, it doesn’t need another government board to oversee it,” he said… “The normal procedure is for a senator to be notified before a bill is filed, so I, quite frankly, found the scenario interesting.”

… Hill said earlier that he wrote the bill to ensure the airport authority has an added level of accountability and transparency.

Lundberg said “as far as their transparency goes — they [the airport authority] do very, very well. I haven’t dug deeply into the airport’s finances, but they provide a high level of services with a low budget.”


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