Saturday, April 8, 2017

What did the city staff know, and when did they tell the Federal Aviation Administration? Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport (KLBL)

Opinion
Saturday, 08 April 2017 07:14
High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times
Editor Emeritus Larry Phillips


The day prior to City Manager Mark Hall meeting with FAA officials, at a city commission meeting on March, 10, 2015, according to the meeting minutes, Finance Director Chris Ford “requests the consideration of the Commission to temporarily deposit the sale proceeds from the sale of 7th Street and Western Avenue properties into the Ballfields Capital Project.”

Any funds remaining after building the ball fields would then be transferred into the Streets, Drainage and Other Capital Improvements portion of the 1-cent sales tax fund, he noted.

“Commissioner Dave Harrison moved to approve the (request), as presented, with Vice-Mayor Aragon seconding the motion. The motion carried unanimously by a vote of 5 to 0.”

Now let’s jump ahead three months to the June 23, 2015, city commission meeting.

Hall requested the transfer of $397,000 into the Airport land sale fund from the Economic Development portion of the 1-cent sales tax fund. 

Hall felt this amount was the actual land value of the property, and he could just wash everything away with this move.

Hall told the commission “contact was made with FAA directly and verified this would be in compliance with their regulations regarding Airport land sale revenue with regard to the Neighborhood Market project.”

This was not wholly the truth about what the FAA had told him, but that was the way he spun it for the commission and the public.

During his March 11 meeting with FAA officials, Hall apparently learned even though the city had a clear deed to that property, the release of the property cannot go forward without going through the FAA airport property release process, and that the money received for the property must be kept in the airport operations fund for airport maintenance, etc., because the airport is under FAA regulations.

Hall  went through all the benefits of having the airport fund during this meeting, never explaining that when all that airport industrial area was deeded to the city, there were strings attached, like the sales monies “must” be put into that airport fund – after the land was “released” by the feds.

He also said in the meeting  we’re not losing money because the FAA had capital improvement plans (CIP) to spend about $180,000 in the “next few years,” and the city had used some 1-cent sales tax sale funds out there because the fed’s grant match hadn’t been received yet.

Again, Harrison made motion to transfer the funds “as presented.”

But, new commissioner Jack Carlile asked why it hadn’t been handled that way in the first place? 

Here is where the real misinformation started as recorded in the minutes:

“Hall advised it wasn’t a requirement at that time.

“Commissioner Carlile questioned (why it) was a requirement now.” (These are exact words of meeting minutes).

“Mr. Hall advised he had informed the Commission of this and noted during discussion with FAA, and at that time, it wasn’t felt to be necessary after a review by three legal firms that (were) part of the land sale.” 

That is not true whatsoever, according to the FAA officials. They explicitly told Hall there was a release process the city would have to go through: Filling out a form, then posting the request of release in the Federal Register for comment, then receiving the release – with the sale proceeds to be placed in the airport fund.

Hall then “noted he had approached the FAA in Kansas City in March and during that discussion it was felt by FAA there was an outstanding agreement, and we are still in question of that agreement.”

Hall seems to infer the FAA is lying to him.

“Mayor Denoyer then questioned city legal counsel (Shirla) McQueen if she was correct that we had clear title to sell the land at that time. 

“Legal counsel McQueen advised that was correct. She noted the title company determined that the city could sell this land, not subject to any lien or requirement from the FAA.” 

This is erroneous at best.

There are only four reasons McQueen would say that: 1. She never looked very far into the FAA land release requirements, or 2. She couldn’t understand the requirements; or 3. She did what Hall told her to do without looking into it; or 4. She misinformed the commission.

Harrison then jumps into the fray saying he “understood that the land belongs to the City.” 

Again, “McQueen said that was correct.”

McQueen also noted “… in fact, that is the way her firm read the deed transfer as well as Walmart’s legal team and the title company.” 

Funny, not one of those other legal teams had the FAA land release requirements document in their possessions. But Liberal has been doing FAA land sales for 68 years.

“Denoyer questioned what happens if it turns out we didn’t have clear title?”

A clear title is not the problem. The city “has” clear title with no reservations on that title. It’s the sale of that property without following long-existing protocol that’s the real problem. Legal protocol, I might add.

Even the FAA’s Lynn Martin told Hall in an email she had handled these kinds of airport land sales numerous times with airport manager Debbie Giskie, and everything went smoothly. 

“Hall advised once the funds are in the airport land sale fund they need to stay there and noted the City is not losing any money. He explained there are other improvements on the Airport CIP for future grant consideration.” 

Hall was trying to ease the pain of the commissioners when they learn the entire $901,000 (less closing costs) may have to be put in the airport fund, even after he admitted earlier in the meeting the FAA’s plans only call for spending $180,000 out of that fund “over the next few years.”

My question is: How long is it going to take to spend all the $834,000 in the airport fund from the land sale, and where will the money come from to pay for the ball fields? They are paid for, so what fund does that money come from now? 

No notes show up in this June 23, 2015, meeting minutes that Hall has ever told the FAA the land was sold in Feb. 2015. 

In fact, there are no open meeting records where he ever told his commissioners (maybe with the exception of Harrison) or the public that he hasn’t relayed to the FAA the land was sold in February.

It wasn’t until about July 1, 2015, that the FAA found out the truth: That Hall had been scamming them for months.

This discovery happened shortly after Hall dismissed Lynn Martin’s warnings and asked who he should go over her head to get things ironed out, the last week of June 2015.

Her divisional boss wrote his scathing letter to Hall on July 9, 2015, and then the commission had a heated meeting July 14.

During commissioners’ comments at the start of the July 14th meeting, Tony Martinez said he was elected to do positive things for the city and the ball fields, and 90-plus jobs at the new Walmart were positive. He also added a kind of “Why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along” statement about working together.

I take this as proof that Martinez didn’t have an idea of what was going on, and I believe Hall could tell Martinez anything and he would swallow it hook, line and sinker.

More proof of Hall’s manipulations of the commissioners, with the help of Harrison, according to the discussions in this meeting.

Carlile brought up the fact he had always seen certain restrictions on airport property sales, and admitted he got in touch himself with the FAA official, Lynn Martin, who had been dealing with Hall.

Carlile said the response from her wasn’t positive at all. 

“He thought the City has been put into some major jeopardy because we did not pick up the phone at the very start of this Price Properties (purchasing agent for Walmart) project … make a phone call on how we could do this and expedite it. He indicated we are looking at maybe being fined,” according to the city’s minutes.

“Denoyer (then) reported the FAA has requested additional information from the City of Liberal regarding the land sale at 7th and Western, and we’re in the process of acquiring that requested data, and we’ll be responding to the FAA here probably by the end of the week if not the first of next week.” 

Mayor Denoyer then went through the same old talking points Hall, Harrison and McQueen eschewed about clear deed, etc., but admitted “the FAA has disagreed with that interpretation and that is why they have asked for additional information.”  

He noted “… legal counsel having taken this over to provide all the necessary documentation and the thought process as to how we arrived at this decision.”

Denoyer failed to point out “legal counsel” helped get them in this mess, and it was Mark Hall’s “thought process.”

He “noted the FAA has given us 30 days to respond and legal counsel should have that response within seven days of their request. At this time, everything is still pending. 

“Carlile inquired if we couldn’t have made a call to the FAA at the start so we wouldn’t be in this predicament?” 

Harrison jumped in to protect Hall, saying Hall went to Kansas City to meet with the FAA. 

“Carlile noted that happened in March, after the land was sold. 

“Harrison stated it was not sold – that is incorrect.”

That is a blatant lie, as the land was sold prior to the March 11 meeting with the FAA officials.

My guess is Harrison may have known his statement was not true, but the rest of the commission apparently didn’t know that.

Denoyer did, but he sat silent, knowing he signed the deed Feb. 23, “before” Hall’s March meeting with the FAA.

“Denoyer noted the paperwork had been on the FAA’s desk for several weeks, prior to them looking at it. He advised he spoke with Lynn at FAA, and it is their desire to work through this to an equitable solution.”

That is pure double-talk. The FAA documents on her desk were the request for land release that needed to be filed with Form 7460 (which they hadn’t received prior to July 6) in the Federal Register, which then takes about 40 days for comments.

His “everything is going to be OK” sounds unbelievable since as of Monday, April 3, the FAA still is investigating the situation two years later.

She had actually sent out the info to the Federal Register prior to finding out the land was already sold. 

Denoyer’s statement on this point had nothing to do with when the FAA found out the truth about the sale, or why Hall never contacted the FAA in the first place.

In the next installment, see how Harrison and Hall both use bullying tactics at this meeting to try and change the focus of the problems created with the FAA.

Citizens need to call the commissioners and ask them, “What happens if Liberal loses its federal funding for the airport?”

Read more here:  http://www.leaderandtimes.com

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