Turbulence nothing new for airport board

By Brian Bullock / Staff Writer / bbullock@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Monday, July 25, 2011

Second attempt Thursday to select new director

Having difficulty selecting a new director for the Santa Maria Public Airport Board is nothing new, and the board will make a second attempt Thursday.

The turbulence the board encountered at the July 14 meeting when current directors — President Hugh Rafferty, Vice President Chuck Adams, Secretary Chuck Damiano and Carl Engel Jr. — were unable to pick a successor to Ted Eckert, who passed away in June, wasn’t dissimilar to 2007 when board members struggled to appoint a successor to Michael Houser.

This is the third time since 2000 the board has had to appoint a director. Dick Hulme was appointed in 2000.

Four years ago when the board was looking to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Houser, Engel and Lahr, who had won election to the board in 2004, favored John Will, while Eckert and Damiano voted against the appointment. A second motion to appoint a different applicant, Bob Stahl, also failed by 2-2 vote.  It was only when Eckert eventually decided to support Will that the appointment was made by a 3-1 vote.  Will was selected from a field of eight, which included Rafferty and two former board members Dick Hulme and Bob Stahl, who applied to fill the vacancy. Will ran for the board in 2006 but finished third in the voting for two seats.

In an eerily similar situation earlier this month, Rafferty and Engel supported former Airport Board member Donald Lahr, while Adams and Damiano picked local dentist and pilot Girard Brenneman, who like Will four years earlier has been a candidate in the past two board elections and finished one spot out of a seat each time.

This year, six candidates applied to fill the void on the board — Brenneman, Lahr, Denis Breslin, Ken Dally, Richard Jensen and Timothy Larson. Breslin and Jensen were unable to attend the July 14 meeting, but after they failed to reach a decision on who to appoint the board members decided to allow those men to remain in the selection process.  Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said both Breslin and Jensen have indicated they would like to remain in contention for the position.

Engel said the current situation is similar to 2007 pitting hangar tenants against nonpilots.

“We have a bunch of candidates. We had some good candidates back then, too,” said Engel, a board member since 2000. “I think the board went for John Will because he was a contractor and we were working on the baggage claim area and some other projects.”

At the July 14 meeting, Brenneman, Lahr and Dally turned out to be the top three choices by the directors, each of whom offered their top three choices for the seat. Brenneman and Lahr split the four votes for No. 1 pick, while Dally, a local business owner, pilot and former city councilman in Big Bear, was selected as the second choice by all four board members.

If the board remains deadlocked Thursday, it could opt to hold an election or ask the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to appoint a replacement. Airport Counsel Ray Biering said the election would have to be held 130 days or more after the board calls for it.  “If the board opts to go with calling an election, it would have to be in 2012,” he said, adding it would most likely be in November’s general election.  In that election, Rafferty, Adams and Engel are all up for re-election.

Posted in Local on Monday, July 25, 2011

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