(WBIR-CROSSVILLE) There are small airports all across the country like Crossville Memorial Airport, but city leaders are questioning whether this one is managed as safely and efficiently as it could be.
Crossville City Council member Pete Souza tried getting his peers to agree to an audit specifically to examine airport operations in October. He said security is one of his biggest concerns.
"Our airport after dusk is wide open. Anybody can stop and anybody can leave," Souza said. "I have had numerous phone calls, a lot of phone calls, about activity at night at the airport and over the fact that our airport is open at night and unsupervised."
Chris Bennett is the airport manager and owner of Crossville Aero, the company that operates it. He said about 10 to 15 flights use his base per day, so it's a lot different than how major airports or regional ones like Knoxville are managed.
"Generally, a general aviation airport like this is uncontrolled," Bennett said. "It's not a controlled field, and it's up to the pilots to maintain safety of the passengers and aircraft."
He said fences around the grounds, key pads for each gate and surveillance cameras all serve as security measures.
"The only time no one's here is after dark," Bennett said. "Me and none of my staff man it after hours, and we're always on call 24 hours a day."
Crossville police also keep an eye on things.
"We have an officer patrolling this zone 24 hours every day," Crossville Police Chief Rodney Shoap said.
But Councilman Souza isn't just raising concerns about safety. He's worried about the oversight and management of the airport's $100,000-plus annual budget.
"The city enters agreement with Crossville Aero, paying it $79,000 per year to assign an airport manager that in fact oversees themselves," Souza said. "I have an issue with that."
The root of the controversy dates back eight years. Audits from 2007 show the city terminated a contract with its last airport manager. It hired Bennett's company, Crossville Aero, 16 days later.
Souza said the deal was a quick fix with little oversight or financial accountability.
"I thought it was fiscally irresponsible to have a provision of a contract that dates back seven years where revenue was received on an honor system, whereby the contractor stated how much fuel you use and paid so much money," Souza said.
He continued: "That's not to imply that the contractor was fraudulent. I thought that was irresponsible of the city to have a plan that received revenue without any authentication of the numbers."
A 2008 audit shows the city council addressed previous issues and approved a new contract with Crossville Aero. Some of those issues included not establishing fuel flowage fees, not issuing requests for bids for the management position, and having some "terms of the contract appear to be much more favorable than were previously given to the former operator."
But other council members said there's nothing to question at the airport.
"Pete's just chasing an issue that doesn't exist," Crossville City Council member Jesse Kerley said.
He said Bennett has made a lot of progress at the airport, especially when it comes to bringing business into the area.
"Chris was named as our interim airport manager and then was the only individual to put a bid in the city of Crossville," Kerley said.
"It's a business tool and we try to get people in here. There's a lot of people coming in here, a lot of corporate traffic," Bennett said.
Souza still wants council members to take a closer look at how taxpayer dollars are being spent through a new independent audit.
"We're going to have to start planning and managing for our future," Souza said.
The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury said Crossville Memorial Airport is included in annual city audits, so it is not required to get a separate financial review.
Council members will discuss Bennett's contract at a meeting next month.
10News reached out to Crossville City Manager David Rutherford, who is supposed to oversee the airport, but he would not comment on his role.
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