Gary Burns

Gary Burns

There are a lot of controversial challenges facing the county. One of the most recent is the matter of leases at the airport.

When the government gave us the facility after World War II, we had to agree to certain stipulations. The one I have the biggest problem with was the requirement that the airport receives “fair market value” for all properties at the airport – even properties that the county has built, maintained and operated for years.

I’ve questioned this for 15 years, and now the Federal Aviation Administration is starting to enforce the agreement. This year we received official notice from the FAA that we were basically noncompliant on some of our lease agreements and had to take corrective action.

Failure to comply could result in millions of dollars of lost grant money, which we desperately need. I don’t agree with this and have seen that it makes it hard to develop and manage the property. But that is the agreement and we have to comply.

Also, per our agreement, any money generated at the airport can’t be diverted to another department, whether grants, insurance reimbursements, rents, event proceeds, etc.

I have always maintained that certain activities such as soccer, archery, 4-H, Texas Mile and the Master Gardeners have a value to the community that should be considered toward any rent required. These all give great exposure for the airport to the community and help build goodwill between all involved. How do you put a price tag on that?

The value of providing our children a place to play soccer is immeasurable, and we should do whatever is required to keep this program alive and well, including covering any additional dollars required to meet federal requirements. Our extension office and 4-H are two more examples that have to be maintained.

During the recent airport commissioners meeting, the question of the Master Gardeners’ lease came up. This is property at the airport, under direction of the airport board and airport manager. They were given the responsibility to manage the facility, including negotiating the leases, as well as directing all operations, repairs and maintenance. That is how it works with the hospital and port boards.

I referred to the Master Gardeners as a special interest group – a poor choice of words on my part, and I apologize, as this phrase has a negative connotation in some instances. I didn’t mean kick them out in the street and ignore all the good they have done. I have requested a presentation from Mr. Bochat clarifying the efforts of the Master Gardeners.

It’s hard to pick and choose. I understand everyone’s concern. I am on, or have served on, numerous boards, including Gulf Bend, VEBEC, Challenged Athletes, Boys and Girls Club and Mid-Coast Family Services. I know firsthand the challenges these folks face, and they deserve all the help we can offer.

We are fortunate to have the board members we have on all our boards – the port, the hospital and the airport, to name a few.

We should choose whom we put on these boards based on their knowledge, experience and the skills they bring to the table.

We give these boards authority to run their operations without Commissioners Court micromanaging. They are usually more qualified and experienced than we are.

It gives us the opportunity to call on them as free consultants and managers, and we should appreciate their service. These are unpaid positions and require a great deal of time and dedication.

They, as well as our paid managers, should never be cut out of any decision-making or any matter regarding their facility. This has never been done at the port or the hospital.

This was done at the airport after the hurricane, and I question why. A lot of questions have come up about why this was done and what went on. I don’t suspect anything criminal, just efforts to maybe bypass and “cloud” some of the details and activity.

One way or another, I’m sure we will get answers. I am confident we all want to do right. We just may have different ideas about how to accomplish this goal. Monday, Commissioner Kevin Janak gave an encouraging update on the progress of his committee, and we look forward to this report.

We need to get answers to our questions and truly be transparent. We answer to our taxpayers. If we don’t, wouldn’t we be telling them it’s none of their business and to just trust us? That is why I want the task force or, at the very least, a detailed evaluation by qualified and experienced individuals. We need to evaluate what happened and recognize all the good work done. There was a lot of good accomplished.

We also need to own up to any mistakes as well as any actions that could have been improved on. This would be invaluable as a reference in future emergencies or catastrophes. We need to get this done, learn from it, and move on.

Victoria deserves answers and accountability.

Gary Burns was first elected County Commissioner, Precinct 3, in 2004.He is a property owner and fellow taxpayer with over 30 years experience owning several businesses (before being elected). He is a member of Parkway Church. and a member of numerous nonprofit boards.

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