County panel looking to other airports for ideas on crafting aviation authority
By Shannon Pettypiece
The committee charged with designing an independent airport authority for Miami-Dade County is learning from mistakes and successes of other regions before crafting a proposal of its own.
"We are picking and choosing the best things from other airports," said committee member Mario Artecona, executive director of Miami Business Forum. "There is a saying in the airport industry that if you've seen one airport, you've seen one airport. There are no cookie cutters when it come to airports."
The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners manages Miami International, Opa-locka, Kendall-Tamiami Executive and Homestead General airports. An independent aviation authority, if a committee proposal is approved, could take over management of day-to-day operations at the four facilities.
Mr. Artecona said the group hopes to avoid mistakes made by other airport governments - such as being ambiguous over what issues fall under the authority's control and creating another bureaucracy through the authority.
The Wayne County Airport Authority, which oversees Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Willow Run Airport in Michigan, is one of the success stories he said the Miami-Dade committee has studied.
Wayne County Airport official Michael Conway said that since the authority took over in August, the airport has run more efficiently and independently.
"So far, things are going very well and the operation is very effective," Mr. Conway said. "These board members are focused solely on the business of the Wayne County airport."
The Wayne County authority has its own payroll and human-resources department and is responsible for all the airport's procurements. The authority has a seven-member board - four appointed by the county executive, two by the governor's office and one by the Wayne County Commission, Mr. Conway said.
He said 26 of the top 50 airports in the country have independent bodies running airport operations.
The Miami-Dade committee is also looking at the Orlando Aviation Authority and the Allegheny County Aviation Authority, which oversees Pittsburgh International.
Orlando has a seven-member aviation authority created in 1976. It has its own fire department, and five of the members are appointed by the governor.
The Miami-Dade committee plans to look at 28 issues in the next 11/2 months that will outline how an authority should be governed and how it would be held accountable.
"They will be accountable to the people of Miami-Dade County. It is through what mechanism that is still to be determined," Mr. Artecona said.
Some of the governance issues include:
N The authority's rule-making powers.
N Procedures for appointing and removing members.
N Transfering powers and functions from county to independent hands.
N Appointing an aviation director.
N Financial management.
N Contracting power.
N Fire, rescue and legal services.
N Dealing with existing employees during a transfer.
Committee chairman Neisen Kasdin said the group has agreed that the board should have no more than seven members.
He said the learning process is over and the committee will begin "getting into the meat and potatoes of the issue" at its next meeting, July 23.
The 15-member committee has been meeting since May.
The county commission empowered the committee in April to design a proposal by September outlining the creation of an aviation authority to oversee operations at Miami-Dade County's four airports, which generate more than $1 billion and employ thousands.
There have been at least two unsuccessful attempts to form independent aviation authorities in Miami-Dade County. Mr. Artecona said he is more hopeful that this attempt will succeed than he was at the start of the process because of feedback from the community.
If the commission does not approve the committee's recommendation, the county could put the matter to voters in September 2004, Mr. Artecona said.
"There is a possibility that if the commission doesn't pass this that this will be brought up to a referendum," Mr. Artecona said. "I think it is going to be a very uphill battle to get the commission to approve this, but I haven't given up hope."
In other regions, state officials have intervened in the creation of an authority when a county commission would not approve one, Mr. Kasdin said. He said that would not be legal in Miami-Dade.