Sunday, November 26, 2017

OUR VIEW: A takeoff for a different Decatur air carrier

Susan Stukins, left, Air Choice One station manager, helps a passenger down the steps after landing in Decatur.


Park Board member Chris Riley’s decision that he will recuse himself from voting on Archer Daniel Midland’s offer to fund improvements at Decatur Airport is a needed measure to avoid a conflict of interest. The move is the latest in a head-turning series of events in recent weeks.

The park board on Nov. 15 took the unexpected step to reverse its endorsement of what airline should receive federal funding to operate at the airport.

Earlier this month, they recommended a company called Cape Air, which wanted to run prop planes from Decatur to St. Louis and Chicago O’Hare.

Riley, who is director of state government relations for ADM, was one of two commissioners on the five-member board who voted to endorse another company, SkyWest, which proposed using jets to fly only to O’Hare. But they were outvoted.

Then came Nov. 15, when officials from ADM, T/CCI Manufacturing and Decatur Memorial Hospital came to the board meeting and said commissioners should abandon the Cape Air endorsement and go with SkyWest. They said the jets would be better.

But here’s where it gets interesting. ADM offered to give the Decatur Park District $100,000 to refurbish the airport and guaranteed that the company would use at least 5,000 airplane seats a year if SkyWest were selected.

ADM, of course, deservedly wants this because the company’s headquarters in 2014 was relocated from Decatur to Chicago — meaning there are plenty of employees going back and forth. They want fast planes.

Commissioner Chris Harrison, who originally wanted Cape Air, ended up switching his vote and went with SkyWest. The rest, including Riley, voted the same way.

That’s an important distinction — that Riley supported Skywest all along — but in our view, it still raises the inevitable question of a conflict of interest.

Riley is a committed public servant who has served on the park board for many years. But the addition of ADM into a public meeting and lobbying a board on which an employee sits fundamentally changes the dynamic, like it or not. Riley’s recusal on the issue of ADM funding moving forward is the only option.

Some are upset about the possibility that flights to St. Louis are coming to an end. We understand. Yet remember, this is an elected board — and they made this decision. Where these planes go will ultimately be up to the federal Department of Transportation. We're along for the ride. 

Original article can be found here ➤

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