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Ritter: Benton Airport readies for a new era

By Geoff Ritter
Posted on 11/22/2017, 1:00 AM

Perhaps the Benton Municipal Airport is finally on its way to flying straight.

As Rick Hayes reports in this week's issue, Mayor Fred Kondritz is deep into interviewing candidates to constitute a newly created advisory board tasked with overseeing the troubled airport's operations. Kondritz plans to name his three candidates to serve on the board at Monday's city council meeting.

The new board is presumably a permanent fix for what has become a long-term distraction in Benton -- namely, who is in charge of the airport, and what involvement should the city have with its administration. In the process of figuring that out, perhaps the city will find the elusive answers to other questions as well.

"When I came on as mayor I kept asking about the previous minutes (of the board) and never received them," Kondritz says in this week's story. "They (board members) had a hard time finding them. That's what spurred the whole situation causing a breakdown between the council and the board. The council should be responsible for what goes on at the airport. The council was never informed of what was going on at the airport."

Too true. Digging by two of the former airport board members, Rocky Morris and Tom Carter -- also members of the Point-Man Watchdog group -- resulted in a handful of disturbing discoveries about the former, seven-member airport board, including that members apparently had met without a full quorum. Also, some key decisions appear to have been made not only without a quorum of board members, but without any organizational bylaws. And there weren't always meeting minutes to describe what they had, or had not, been doing.

But when the situation was finally brought to the city's doors, confusion reigned. A Freedom of Information Act request for airport records filed with the city of Benton effectively revealed that the city had exercised little to no oversight over the airport's board and in fact was not confident it even had the authority to do so. The situation eventually made its way to the Illinois Attorney General's Office, which ruled that, yes, in fact, the airport board is in fact part of the city.

To put a finer point on the matter: The city of Benton, which owns the land that houses the airport and appointed members to its former board, questioned whether the airport board as an entity was even part of the city of Benton. As it turns out, at least according to the Attorney General's Office, it is.

The airport, sitting in isolation adjacent to Interstate 57, has been the butt of a few jokes over time. Who uses it? What's the point? What does Benton need with an airport? Fact is, the airport is probably a thing of great untapped potential. There's no need to throw the baby out with the bath water in this situation.

Kondritz has indicated he is looking for completely new membership for the new advisory board, which will report directly to the city council. That's a good start. Some new faces at the helm, and an increased focus on transparency, could lead the way to answers about what role an airport can serve in Benton.

Here's hoping for clear skies as they get underway.

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