Mon, Oct. 14

Airport Commission selected
Qualifications, community needs discussed at length

After a lengthy discussion, dominated by debate over community-minded vs. qualified individuals, seven members were selected by the City Council to serve on Cottonwood's new Airport Commission.

The seven chosen include Donald Thompson, Billy Tinin, Lawrence Minch, Margaret Austell, Jim Moeny, Aleck Gradijan, Jr. and Allyson Waak.

"I'm looking for members of this [commission] that will be cognizant of the many diverse community needs," Mayor Diane Joens said.

Late last week, the review committee that was established to help sort through the Airport Commission applicants and make recommendations to the City Council, forwarded on nine of the 18 commission hopefuls to the Council.

Two individuals who were "instrumental" in the promotion and creation of an airport commission did not make that list.

Minch said it was Gradijan, John Altizer and himself who were "instumental in bringing it from an idea to its present state," and urged the Council to strongly consider all of them.

Joens, who was on the review committee, repeated that the selection of any of the applicants is at the Council's pleasure and the Council does not need to only go with the recommendations made by the review committee. Pleading his case for being on the Airport Commission and the importance of selecting qualified individuals over others, Gradijan said, "This airport is this community's best economic engine and we can't afford to blow it. We cant afford to play politics, and that's what I see happening...We the people have the right to have the best knowledge, best experienced hardest workers on this commission. Given the choice between Mr. Nice Guy and someone who knows what they're doing, who can serve real value to this commission, for me, no choice. But I don't have a political agenda here."

Gradijan went on to ask if other applicants had knowledge of some of the technical aviation matters, such as Federal Aviation Regulations and whether the Airman's Information Manual is an official or advisory document.

"If the commissioners can't answer these questions they are window dressing," Gradijan said. "...Some of the applicants are qualified and some are not. And some are very qualified. Can you tell the difference?"

He went on to express his frustrations with the review committee, which was made up of Joens, Councilwoman Linda Norman, a library board member, a planning and zoning commissioner and a parks and recreation commissioner.

"Madam mayor read off the list of the committee members, and if you put them all together, you couldn't get once ounce of aviation knowledge out of them. And they were making the decision?" Gradijan asked. "They held a meeting, they didn't invite any of the candidates to speak, they didn't notify several of the candidates, and they didn't even notify the Cottonwood [Airport] Users Association...I mean, what countries do they have secret meetings in? To be quite honest ladies and gentleman, If it were a court, I'd be looking for a kangaroo."

Out of 5,000 airports in the United States, 4,500 "are like ours," he concluded. "Does anyone know where ours stacks up in that 4,500? Do you care? Do you have the knowledge to even know? Think about that."

The mayor responded by stating, "I would comment that we have the knowledge to know what we're elected to do for our entire community, and that's what we're all working toward."

Altizer added that he believes Gradijan, himself and Minch are cognoscente of the community's needs and concerns. He said he and Gradijan made efforts to reduce the amount of noise at the Cottonwood Municipal Airport because of complaints. He said the noise complaints have now dropped off "considerably." He added that the three men also know the importance of a thriving airport on the local economy, stating that the airport can bring people to area restaurants, hotels and businesses.

"But there are a lot of problems at that airport," Altizer said. "If this airport was run efficiently and correctly, bearing in mind the needs of the community, we think the airport could be an engine for money into the community."

Joens defended her position of leaving out Altizer and Gradijan. She said she had a concern with appointing a group of "really good friends," stating that she was afraid they might break open meeting laws and reiterating the need for a balance on the Airport Commission. "And that is why I chose the candidates, and I thought this was a good choice."

In response, Altizer said, "I think all of us are intelligent enough to keep out of jail. Where all of us were working, there are real jail-time conflict of interest laws. Especially when you work in the defense industry. I'm well aware and so is Al and so is Larry."

Although much of the hour-long discussion was dominated by this back and forth between the Council, Altizer, and Gradijan, others applicants opted to speak about being on the commission as well.

Austell talked about how the Verde Valley is growing and community needs.

Tinin said he is a member of the local Civil Air Patrol and he "believes in the airport." He asked that the Council keep in mind that just because "someone is a pilot doesn't make them qualified to serve on a commission."

Austell, Tinin and Thompson spoke at the previous meeting on June 5, when the City Council decided to table the appointments and form the review committee to weed through applicants.

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Tim Elinski said he was surprised to see that Altizer and Gradijan were not on the list of recommendations. Councilman Terence Pratt also said he was surprised to not see Altizer.

Ultimately, Elinski made the motion to appoint Gradijan. It was seconded by the mayor and agreed upon by council. The other six appointed commissioners were agreed upon unanimously as well.

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