Column: New council is officially in place, butting heads has begun

The new Kingman City Council is already showing signs of conflict. This is not surprising. What is surprising is the two who might butt heads were allies going into the 2016 election.

The players: Mayor Monica Gates and Councilman Travis Lingenfelter.

The issue: The Kingman Airport and Industrial Park and, more specifically, its governing board, the Kingman Airport Authority.

Both made the airport one of their top campaign priorities. Both contend KAA Executive Director Dave French and Economic Development Director Bob Riley have failed at their jobs. Both contend the airport and industrial park is severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Where they disagree, apparently, is how to go about making the changes both say need to be made. Gates wants to take a slow, deliberate and rational approach. She wants to develop a dialog between the city and the authority.

Lingenfelter wants the agreement between the city and the authority ripped to shreds.

In December, Daily Miner Publisher Debbie White and I sat down with French and airport board members Krystal Burge and Martin Swanty.

The objective was to finally hear what they had to say after French endured withering criticism from a good portion of the public and this newspaper over a period of several months.

The discussion was enlightening, to say the least.

One of the chief complaints about the agreement is that there are no objective benchmarks for the authority to meet. The lack of performance standards is a fatal flaw in the agreement, according to critics.

But let’s discuss the agreement. Lingenfelter and others have long called it a contract, defined as a legally binding document that clearly spells out what is expected of the parties that sign the document.

But the city doesn’t have a contract with the authority. According to City Attorney Carl Cooper and the authority, it has a lease agreement, which spells out the terms and conditions of a lease. There are no performance standards in a rental agreement except to clean up the dog poo and don’t burn down the house, store or warehouse.

They are two different things and this is the first critical roadblock the city faces.

Secondly, the virally spread contention that no new businesses have opened at the airport since 2008 is patently false. While it is true no large employers have come to Kingman to hire 100 or more people, about two dozen smaller companies have opened and, collectively, they have scores of employees.

French, who has been maligned in print, at campaign events, on social media and public meetings for more than a year, points out that the authority doesn’t have the, ahem, authority to do most of what its critics claim needs to be done.

He did say the authority has come a long way over the years, recalling a time in the not too distant past when they had to auction off a courtesy van to make payroll.

The Kingman Airport, every square inch of it, including a couple thousand acres of barren land, is under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA calls most of the shots and, given that it is not just a federal agency, but one that has more regulations than perhaps any other, a series of complicated steps have to be taken to accomplish the simplest of goals.

French has led the authority for a decade. He is chairman of the board of directors at Kingman Regional Medical Center and Mission Bank. It is difficult to reconcile these achievements with someone who has been described by some as, at best, lacking people skills.

The question that must be answered is this: Will the city engage the authority in cooperation or litigation? Cooper said terms of the lease can be argued in court, but just what that means is something lawyers will have to determine.

Unless the authority doesn’t meet the narrowly confined parameters of the lease agreement, finding a cause of action might prove difficult.

On the other hand, the authority might want to take Gates up on her offer to sit down and discuss issues.

If French explains his position as eloquently as he did at our December meeting, the Kingman City Council and citizens alike will have a more thorough understanding of how and why the airport and industrial park operates the way it does.

And then we can move forward, which is the direction we need to go.