Yavapai County’s attempt to take over the Sedona Airport is in a holding pattern as the two sides work to resolve the issues that prompted the takeover talk.
Representatives from the county and the Sedona-Oak Creek Airport Authority are scheduled to meet informally Friday, March 18, according to Chip Davis, county supervisor for District 3, which includes Sedona.
“We’re working through our differences,” Davis said. “We’re not looking to take over if they can fix the issues that have been there: Ensuring that citizens have input, that the city of Sedona has input and that there are safeguards in place for the airport manager.”
Coincidentally, the SOCAA Board of Directors has hired Amanda Shankland as the new general manager, the third in the last three years.
The hiring process, however, proved to be a speed bump in the race to reconcile differences, according to Davis.
He said that the Board of Supervisors wasn’t consulted when SOCAA began its search for the position after former general manager Russell Widmar stepped aside.
“They were recruiting for a manager and we weren’t invited,” Davis said.
“The contract says the county has to be a part of it,” he added, referring to the fact that SOCAA leases the airport property from the county. The federal government in the 1950s gave the land to Yavapai County for use as an airport.
Another issue arose as county officials began their effort to assume control of the airport.
“We’d heard that some were talking about using all the money SOCAA had to contest the takeover,” Davis said. “That’s the last thing we want — one government suing another, or the county attempting to take over the airport through condemnation.”
SOCAA Board President Giorgio Cagliero denied that the board had been considering that option.
Despite those most recent issues, both Davis and Cagliero said much of the angst between county officials and the airport was generated under previous SOCAA leadership, and that current board is more open to working together.
Davis pointed to Pam Fazzini as an example, specifically when the latest kerfuffles surfaced.
“I made a personal phone call to her. I asked her, ‘How can we resolve this?’ I think she’s a sympathetic ear and a reasonable voice,” he said.
Moving forward, he said, “Everyone needs to calm down and address the questions: What is it that we want to accomplish? How can we resolve the issues?”
The county’s move to take over the airport had its seeds during informal discussions with airport officials. The Board of Supervisors addressed the issue in an executive session Oct. 19.
Subsequently, the board had its lawyer draft a letter to the SOCAA stating the county’s intent to takeover the airport and the reasons.
“There is no oversight by the city, little by the county,” Davis said in October. “And there’s a disconnect between hangar owners and the airport authority. If the people who use it have a problem, what’s going on?
“The airport serves a regional purpose, but there hasn’t been cooperation with main entities — city of Sedona and the community — in regard to operations, future plans or the role it serves.
One of the fixes we’ll make is to bring all stakeholders to the table, including the Forest Service.”
Cagliero acknowledged that there have been issues and that he and the current board “want to fix those problems.”
“Some of Chip’s complaints are my complaints,” he said, adding that the board has met with the Forest Service about cooperation and is considering forming an advisory committee with the city.
Cagliero also praised the current board, saying its members are more sympathetic to hangar owners.
“They are our customers, not a pain in the [butt],” he said. “I never understood why it was that way in the past. But that has really changed. Previous boards were not hanger users. The board now is balanced — four are pilots or hangar owners.”
Also among the county’s concerns are airport safety, contracts for maintenance, leases and violations of grants, which would require the county to pay them back, according to Davis.
During a recent interview, Cagliero and Shankland talked at length about ensuring safety and security at the airport, as well as working more closely with the county officials.
Shankland identified safety as the main responsibility of the airport manager.
Cagliero added, “Our relationship with the county is a priority. We welcome them to be more involved.”
Davis also emphasized the need for the airport’s general manager to be independent.
“There needs to be a shield around the manager,” Davis said. “Board presidents think it’s their operations. The airport needs a professional manager who makes decisions about what’s best for the airport, not whether the board president is going to like it.”
Shankland said, “I understand the shield,” but she and Cagliero agreed that it’s not going to be a problem.
“I have no intention of micro-managing her,” he said.