Anger, frustration bog down talks on Kingman Airport Authority

Travis Lingenfelter is leading a private citizens’ effort to improve Kingman through attracting businesses to the city and bringing in the amenities they require to relocate here, but anger and frustration with the Kingman Airport Authority has taken on center stage.

DOUG McMURDO

Travis Lingenfelter is leading a private citizens’ effort to improve Kingman through attracting businesses to the city and bringing in the amenities they require to relocate here, but anger and frustration with the Kingman Airport Authority has taken on center stage.

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Bob Riley, Economic Development Director at the Kingman Airport

KINGMAN - Travis Lingenfelter was probably hoping for a more productive outcome.

If Kingman is going to prosper, the city must grow. If Kingman is going to grow, it needs businesses to come in with good jobs. If businesses are going to come, the city must offer amenities other communities have that simply don't exist in Kingman.

That was the message Lingenfelter, of the private Partnership for Economic Development in Kingman - PEAK - tried to share when the group met Thursday, but the gathering turned into a verbal beat-down of the Kingman Airport Authority, specifically Director Dave French and Krystal Burge, president of the authority's board of directors. The City Council did not fare much better.

There is no doubt the authority is under fire from not just PEAK, but the Airport Users Association and at least three members of the City Council, which contracts with the authority to manage the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park.

Bob Riley, economic development director at the airport, was in attendance and he heard French called a heavy-handed "emperor" and Burge, a successful businesswoman with a number of concerns in Kingman, was described as having too much power and influence in the city and at the airport.

Lingenfelter said PEAK has two goals. One is to assist the city in any way possible to make the proposed Kingman Crossing development a reality - which could provide the amenities businesses require - and the second is to make the industrial park at the airport thrive after a moribund six or seven years of stagnation. Not a single business has opened in the industrial park in at least the past six years and no new construction has occurred in a decade.

More troubling, at least some of the companies that do business at the airport and industrial park have grown increasingly frustrated with what they consider an authority that is not only unresponsive to their needs, but are treated with blatant hostility by French.

Lingenfelter said there are vacant buildings at the industrial park that are too small to meet the needs of prospective businesses, and when they come to tour the properties they decide against coming to Kingman "in less than three minutes. These are the things the city needs to talk to the airport authority about," he said. He noted PEAK attempted to have the city discuss placing performance measures into its contract with the authority, but that item was removed from the agenda after an attorney for the authority arrived at the Council meeting. "The item got pulled and it won't ever go back on the agenda," said Lingenfelter. "We need to find some candidates." Mayor Richard Anderson, Vice Mayor Carole Young, Councilman Larry Carver and Councilman Ken Dean, who was appointed to replace Mark Wimpee late last year, all face an election this year.

Lingenfelter said the Council relies on City Attorney Carl Cooper to advise them on the contract, which doesn't expire until 2053. "It's their fiduciary responsibility to be familiar with it," he said. As an aside, Anderson and Carver were heavily critical of the authority when they addressed the Mohave Republican Forum Wednesday, and both men said Cooper has been tasked with reviewing the contract to see if there is a way for the city to at least have performance measures made part of the agreement.

And while the Council is clearly divided over the job the authority is doing, members of the Airport Users Association are united in their opposition to the authority's board of directors and Director French.

Gary Rucker, a pilot who owns a business at the airport, said the association has tried for three years to force the board of directors to be more receptive "in a peaceful way," but that is "impossible under the current leadership. We have an emperor running things."

Rucker noted hundreds of residents and business owners have signed a petition that seeks to change things at the airport. He also said groups like his have come and gone over the years and the authority is banking on this one falling by the wayside, as well.

He said the authority and its governing board is a "cloistered autocracy that is unaccountable, unproductive, understaffed and that it demonizes critics."

While Rucker said the time has come to "change the regime," Lingenfelter was more circumspect. "I don't care if it's the same group or a new group. We just want to see progress. Time is precious," he said. "We're competing with other communities that are doing things. It needs to be pushed. This is a community asset."

Rucker said Burge "vilified" Paul Gaines, a member of the users association, at a public meeting after Gaines spoke to the Kingman Daily Miner about his concerns. That led a woman in the audience to suggest Burge serves on "so many boards and owns so many restaurants. Why do we have so few people in control of so much?" Burge sits on the boards of directors of the airport authority, Kingman Regional Medical Center, Mission Bank and the city's Tourism Development Commission. She did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday, but Riley spoke in her defense.

"I think it's admirable she's on all these boards," said Riley on Friday. "She's very heavily invested in the community and she's invested in the airport. Her family owns airplanes."

Riley also said some of the complaints from the users group and the Council are valid and should be discussed. He alluded to that at Thursday's meeting. "In my opinion, we're all frustrated. Nothing's happened in the last six to eight years. Lots of people want to form groups, but we need to work together or we'll create more discord."

On Friday, Riley noted the airport has yet to recover from the Great Recession, but things are starting to turn around. He said proof of the bad economy can be found at the airport, where scores of commercial aircraft are parked because the companies that own them can't afford to fly them.

Lingenfelter attempted to get things back on track when he reminded those in attendance that what's important is the asset itself, not the airport authority, and with a City Council who doesn't believe there is anything to be done about a contract widely considered to be disproportionately favorable to the authority.

"We need to begin a dialog and make a plan," he said. "We need performance measures."