Emerging from a lengthy turbulence, officials from Yavapai County and the Sedona Airport say they are now flying united.
“It’s a new chapter for the Sedona Airport,” said County Supervisor Chip Davis, who represents District 3, which includes Sedona.
Davis and others had been looking into the possibility of the county taking over the airport due to a number of concerns.
That option, however, is no longer on the table after a series of discussions and meetings between the two sides, including Amanda Shankland, who took over as the airport’s general manager in February.
“They are definitely not taking over the airport,” she said after an informal meeting last month. “They trust our leadership, trust we are working together.”
Davis said after the meeting that Shankland and members of the Sedona Oak-Creek Airport Authority have assured him they are willing to address what had been ongoing issues such as:
- Being responsive to complaints.
- Strengthening the relationship between the county and the airport authority.
- Establishing relationships with the city of Sedona and the U.S. Forest Service.
Davis also said he was satisfied that the airport authority board of directors, including its president Giorgio Cagliero, would not micromanage Shankland, which has reportedly been an issue with past boards and general managers.
“Giorgio and a couple of board members have said they will step back and let county and airport staffs figure it out,” Davis said. “We will keep monitoring it.”
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.
There were, however, a couple of recent dust-ups, including the process of hiring Shankland.
Davis said the Board of Supervisors wasn’t consulted when SOCAA began its search to fill the position after former general manager Russell Widmar stepped aside.
“They were recruiting for a manager and we weren’t invited,” Davis said at the time.
“The contract says the county has to be a part of it,” he added, referring to the fact that SOCAA — a nonprofit organization — leases the airport property from the county. The federal government in the 1950s gave the land to Yavapai County for use as an airport. The county is a sponsoring agency for airport grants and would be on the hook for paying them back if SOCAA violated terms of the grants, according to Davis.
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.”
Cagliero denied that the board had been considering that option.
Although the airport authority routinely notifies the county of its plans, such as its annual budget, its master plans or filling vacancies on its board, Shankland said she is aiming for more enhanced communication.
Among the ideas being discussed are having representatives from the airport attend board of supervisors meetings when there are airport matters on the agenda, she said.
Also on the table is the suggestion of appointing a nonvoting representative from the county to the SOCAA board.
“When we are implementing new policies, we want to be cohesive with the county,” Shankland said.
Meanwhile, she and the SOCAA board have been reaching out to city and Forest Service officials.
“I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken,” she said. “We want to be accountable to stakeholders. We want to take the time to fix relationships that have been broken.”
In addition to the city, county and Forest Service, other stakeholders are airport clients, including those who fly into the facility and those who lease hangar space there.
“This is a business,” Shankland said. “People forget about that sometimes. We have to take care of our clients.
“A lot of people are interested in making the airport great ... people want to be heard. We will continue listening to issues right in front of us and not sticking our head in the sand.”
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.
The board had its lawyer draft a letter to the SOCAA stating the county’s reasons for a takeover.
“There is no oversight by the city, little by the county,” Davis said, also emphasizing 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.”
Both Cagliero and Shankland have said that will not be an issue.
“I’m not being led around by board,” she said. “Their experience and advice is useful, but they let me manage.”