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Hill's bill doesn't fly with airport authority

Nathan Baker • Feb 5, 2018 at 7:17 PM

Members of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority were surprised last week by a bill filed by Jonesborough Rep. Matthew Hill seeking legislator approval of all their official actions.

Authority Chairman Jon Smith said he found out about the bill when he read about it in the newspaper.

“I’m really kind of working at a disadvantage here,” Smith said Monday. “I don’t understand the motivation behind the filing and what its objectives are. However, I can say that from the standpoint of the authority, we can see no advantages to ceding local control over our airport to Nashville.”

The legislation creates an executive board of legislators required to approve all actions of authority boards and forbids the authorities from hiring lobbyists.

Hill, a Republican representing the 7th House District, said he filed it because he and the other members of the Northeast Tennessee delegation wanted to ensure the board was prudently using taxpayer funding, including a $4.1 million state grant for an aerospace park planned for land adjacent to the airport.

“With the advancement of the Aerospace Park and the recent funding allocated to see the project move forward, it is our responsibility to ensure that there are no further obstacles standing in the way of the progress this project has made,” Hill said in a statement from area lawmakers. “This legislation is the next logical step in the evolution of the airport because it ensures transparency and that we are all being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Hill said he did not discuss the bill with any of the members of the Airport Authority, and Smith said he didn’t believe any of the members were aware of it before last week.

Rather than help the authority, Smith said the added level of government approval would likely make the board’s decision-making process more cumbersome.

Smith said he, the other board members and airport staff were working diligently to get the aerospace project off the ground, and he wouldn’t want people outside the region to get the impression legislators and the board were incapable of working together.

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