Four out of eight counts dismissed in airport case
More than a year after the state passed legislation to take over the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, the city’s effort to stop the takeover continues.
However, city and airport were recently dealt a major blow in their case by the U.S. District Court.
Judge Carlton Reeves recently dismissed four of the eight counts in the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority’s (JMAA) suit.
JMAA Executive Director Carl Newman declined to comment on the matter, saying the case is still in litigation.
In his order Reeves dismissed plaintiffs’ claims that the bill authorizing the takeover violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution.
Among claims, the city and JMAA hold firm the state violated Mississippi Code Section 61-3-7, which prohibits the creation of a regional airport “unless a public hearing has been provided to communities affected by the proposed agreement.”
Further, the city argued that it would be unable to fulfill the requirements of certain federal grants, if the airport’s ownership is transferred to the state.
The claims didn’t hold water with Reeves, who said 61-3-7 “explains how municipalities may create (or disband) a regional airport … it does not attempt to govern a municipality or individual’s due process rights to object to the Legislature’s consideration of a new airport authority.”
As for contractual obligations on grants and the like, Reeves ruled the city would be “relieved of its contractual obligations if the Airport Operating Certificate is transferred.”
Other counts were not dismissed.
The city and JMAA are also claiming that the state’s efforts to appoint a new authority prior to the approval of the FAA “would cast a pale of uncertainty and irreparably harm the current business opportunities and good will of the JMAA and ... undermine its efforts to continue managing and operating Jackson-Medgar Evers.”
The suit also claims the law was passed “either in whole or in part on discriminatory purposes.” Jackson, which is a majority black city, will only be able to appoint two of the nine board members allowed under the law, both of whom will have shorter initial tenures than other appointees, the suit states.
In 2016, Lawmakers approved SB 2162, which would do away with the JMAA and replace it with a regional board, essentially taking airport control away from the capital city.
Under provisions of the measure, JMAA’s five-member panel would be replaced with a nine-member board made up of regional representatives.
The Jackson mayor, Jackson City Council, Madison and Rankin counties boards of supervisors, and the lieutenant governor would each appoint one person. The commission also would include one representative each from the Mississippi Army National Guard and the Mississippi Development Authority.
Two individuals would be appointed by the governor.
The law also includes new criteria for members to serve on the board, essentially disqualifying most current appointees.
Both of the governor’s appointees must to have a “valid pilot’s license or certification issued by the (FAA),” the law states. Other commissioners must have experience in other fields, including accounting, financial analysis, executive management in business, experience in aviation, economic development, commercial, construction or aviation law, engineering, or in dealing with public financing transactions.
By contrast, JMAA board members must simply live in the capital city, be named by the mayor and approved by the city council. Current members include a former U.S. probation officer, education administrator, registered nurse, environmental consultant and pastor, according to JMAA’s Web site.
The law was slated to take effect on July 1.
However, an initial challenge to the takeover was filed by Jackson resident and Rev. Jeffery Stallworth. Stallworth’s claims were dismissed.
New rules handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have also stalled the takeover.
Last year, the FAA issued a policy statement saying that it would not transfer a certificate unless both parties agreed to terms of the takeover. When no agreement can be reached, the case must be settled through litigation before the transfer would be approved.
A similar airport takeover in North Carolina was halted, thanks to the FAA policy.
There, the state had passed legislation to seize control of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
In 2014, a North Carolina superior court judge issued a permanent injunction against the takeover, and the case was not litigated further.
The FAA says it will accept an application for management change at an airport “ ‘only upon a legally definitive resolution of a dispute.’ That rules out a change in Charlotte, where city and state officials have been locked in a long-running fight,” according to a June 2016 article in the Charlotte Observer.