County's aviation committee will study independent airport authorities in Pittsburgh, Detroit
By Frank Norton
A new committee charged with designing an aviation authority to run Miami-Dade County airports will begin by studying management in regions that use an independent board.
During the next four months, the Miami-Dade Aviation Ad Hoc Committee will scrutinize the Allegheny County Airport Authority - which operates and manages Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport in Pennsylvania - and the Wayne County Airport Authority, which runs the Detroit area's Wayne County Metro Airport and Willow Run Airport.
Both authorities are independent and maintain control of critical procurement functions, said Raymond Cain, committee vice chairman and director of aviation at Florida Memorial College.
The committee will make its recommendations to the Miami-Dade County Commission, which now has final say on all aviation matters. The aviation director reports to an assistant county manager, who reports to the county manager, who in turn reports to the mayor and county commissioners.
Earlier this year, several commissioners said they would oppose the creation of an authority and would vote down the effort.
Now, at least four members of the study committee think that creating an authority would improve aviation business in the county by decreasing lobbyists' influence in the awarding of contracts at Miami International as well as at its four other airports. Those members say that while development and master planning should remain in the hands of elected county officials, day-to-day operations such as procurement and contract awarding should be handled independently.
"It would keep everybody's hands cleaner because there would be fewer lobbyists around trying to influence commissioners," said Leslie Bowe, committee member and treasurer for the Miami-Dade League of Cities.
He said the County Commission should not be involved in awarding contracts.
Mr. Bowe said the Miami-Dade Aviation Ad Hoc Committee, at its next meeting May 21 "will get into the meat and substance of how to convince a majority of commissioners that an independent authority is the best way to go." The 15-member committee is made up of representatives from business, civic and academic organizations from throughout the county.
"They're not giving away the house, but certain authorities need to be handed over, and day-to-day operations is not why we have the Metro 13," the county commissioners, he said.
Under a proposal approved in April by the commission and submitted by Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler, the 15-member committee is to design and submit a proposal to the commission by September for an authority to run day-to-day operations of all county airports, with the commission to remain responsible for airport oversight.
Mr. Bowe and other members said the issue of aviation operations is about maximizing service efficiencies, not wresting political clout.
"Some commissioners say their constituents don't want them to lose control of the airport. I say I have friends and associates that want to know if they can get in and get out of the airport OK and whether they can find what they need while they're there," said Mr. Bowe, a council member for the Village of Pinecrest.
He said operational independence is key to designing an independent authority.
"If we're going to do this, let's do it 100%," he said. "This does not need to be watered down."
Michelle Austin, a committee representative of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, said she agrees that independence is necessary to improve airport functionality.
"In my mind, for operations to be truly independent, procurement would have to be in the hands of an independent body," said Ms. Austin, a lawyer for Planet Automotive Group.
According to the county, Miami International helps employ 200,000 people and adds $1 billion to the local economy every month.
The committee has met twice to discuss organizational issues and educate themselves on airport administration, government and industry trends.
At the next meeting, members plan to discuss the pros and cons of an independent as opposed to a municipal airport authority.
"Now that we've had our initial and educational meeting, we'll start getting into more substantive issues like governance, procurement and the ability for the airport to stand alone instead of as one of many county departments and procurement," said Mario Artecona, director of the Miami Business Forum. He said operational responsibilities such as procurement should be free of the commission and, to some degree, lobbyist control.
"Contracts should be awarded based on merit and pricing," he said, "rather than on a cadre of lobbyists that have been hired around a particular issue."