Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport Lawsuit On Hold Until October Trial or Federal Aviation Administration Change
JACKSON — Who runs the airport is no longer in the hands of Mississippi Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, and Senate Bill 2162.
The author of the so-called "airport takeover" bill that passed the state Legislature last session said Monday that he did not know whether a Donald Trump appointee to the Department of Transportation could affect the outcome of the current pending lawsuit between the governor, lieutenant governor, the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority and the City of Jackson, which the mayor and city council members represent.
"You didn't hear? Trump turned it into Trump Airport now," Harkins said during a phone interview on Dec. 12, joking. "No, it is still in the court."
The passage of SB 2162 last legislative session met great resistance, particularly among the black Jackson community. That included the majority-black JMAA that oversees the operation of the airport, members of whom frequently said it was a racially motivated takeover. Rev. Jeffrey Stallworth, a former JMAA commissioner, filed a lawsuit against the governor and state after the law passed, and in June the City and JMAA joined his lawsuit. Eventually, Stallworth was removed from the case, but the City and JMAA remain.
The City and Jackson City Council hired two law firms to represent their interests, supplementing the city attorney's team. Both the Banks Law Firm and the Sanders Law Firm did not return phone calls by press time. The city council did pass a resolution, sent to the state Legislature, calling for the repeal of SB 2162.
The JMAA also retained counsel, choosing former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Fred Banks Jr., of the Phelps Dunbar firm, along with his team to represent them in the upcoming proceedings.
Harkins said that, as far as he knew, the lawsuit had moved forward to planning out the schedule of the trial, including months before it even begins, a fact Banks confirmed during a Dec. 12 phone interview.
"That is correct, so just be on the lookout for it. As the senator said, the trial ... the date for that will be in October," Banks said.
Harkins said he does not plan to put any more potential laws about the airport before the state Senate. "There's nothing I am going to file for it," Harkins said. "We passed a law, so there is a law on the books."
The Federal Aviation Administration put a hold in June on the transfer of power between the JMAA and the incoming board when it altered a rule about who decides the leadership of local airport boards, ceding the final word to the courts.
"The determination of whether to seek a new applicant for airport sponsorship is a state or local decision," the new policy, published June 6 in the Federal Register, states. "The FAA expects that all disputes about whether to change airport sponsorship and/or operating authority will be resolved through a legally binding agreement between the parties involved in the dispute or a final, non-reviewable legal decision."
The rule change was the result, some said, of the leadership of the Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, who was also the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., during its struggle for control of the airport there, which eventually ended in a standoff between both parties after enormous attorney's fees had accumulated.
"So I think right now, it is a matter of the judge issuing an order or the FAA changing its position that they made under Obama, if the new FAA administration comes in and changes their mind on how they are going to handle stuff like that," Harkins said.
With the election of President-elect Donald Trump, who will be in charge is up in the air. "And I don't even know what that will look like," Harkins said. "I don't know who he is going to pick or how they are going to view stuff like that."
And how could that appointment affect the fate of the airport?
"I wouldn't dare fathom a guess," Harkins said.
Banks declined to comment on the potential outcomes from any president-elect appointment.
Posted by Kathryn on 5:26:00 AM