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INDEPENDENCE — After months of discussing what to do about the proposed change at the Twin County Regional Airport Commission, Independence Town Council has passed a resolution.
Now, they wait and see if it has any teeth.
Back in July, Interim Airport Manager Tim Brown approached council asking for support to change the commission’s membership from seven localities — Carroll and Grayson counties, the City of Galax and the towns of Hillsville, Fries and Independence — to what the commission determined to be the “big three.”
Those three — Galax and the two counties — contribute close to 93 percent of the total funds the commission receives to operate each year.
Independence Town Council immediately noted that they would fight the decision “tooth and nail” and felt that, although they had not given the commission money in recent years, they had contributed plenty since the airport was started.
During its October meeting, council considered the idea of approving a resolution in support of the change if — and only if — the current airport commission members were forced to resign and not allowed to serve for a period of five years.
Council also noted that it wanted set terms for commission members.
During its meeting Nov. 11, council entertained the idea of passing the resolution, with one member still not willing to completely give up representation on the airport commission.
Vice Mayor Tom Maxwell noted that, while the commission has said each locality will be mandated to pay a certain amount each year if the proposed change is not approved, he didn’t believe the commission could legally do that.
“In the original charter, there was nothing said about donating money,” Maxwell told council.
He worried that, even if council adopted the resolution, that it would have no “teeth” and wouldn’t change the decision of the Virginia General Assembly, which must authorize the commission’s charter change.
Council Member Jason Cassell has said from the beginning that he would rather just do away with the airport commission and move on. He added that, in the end, the decision falls on the General Assembly — not the localities.
Council Member Evelyn Hughes wondered the same about the resolution, asking if anyone felt it would affect the General Assembly’s decision.
Town Attorney Roger Brooks noted that the decision lays in the hands of the legislators. He added that Del. Bill Carrico (R-Fries) wanted a unanimous decision from the localities before introducing the charter change to the General Assembly.
“So does this resolution have any teeth?” Maxwell said again. “I’m afraid it doesn’t.”
Brooks said that, while he was unsure if it would change the minds of those voting, if council opted to oppose the charter change — or in this case, approve it with restrictions — he felt the legislators would not act on it.
Maxwell again added that while it may seem the town hasn’t contributed money lately, the town played a significant role in developing the airport.
“Can they do this without our blessing?” Maxwell questioned.
Brooks said his gut feeling would be no, but he added that the legislators can do as they see fit and the town may not have any recourse.
Addressing the issue of whether the commission could bind the money to a financial obligation, Brooks again said his gut feeling was no.
Cassell asked if Maxwell wanted to pass the resolution, to which he replied no.
“I just worry about what it’ll do to us in the future,” Maxwell said. “If we have no representation... right now it may not affect us, but what if later on a big developer comes in?”
Cassell wondered if Grayson would consider putting a citizen of Independence as one of their representatives to help keep the town involved.
Hughes said she doubted they would. “It’s just been a mess from day one,” she said of the airport.
“The total movement is to have the towns out,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been a checks and balances over there.”
Cassell again said he would like to just move on. “I’m tired of talking about the airport. I’ve said it from the beginning... lets be done with it and wash our hands of it... Let them do whatever they want. They will anyway.”
With that, Cassell motioned to adopt the resolution with the stipulations that no representative will serve more than two terms of three years and that each current member would be asked to resign immediately and not be eligible to serve again for a period of five years.
The resolution also said that terms would be set up to expire each year — essentially replacing one-third of the commission every year and the possibility to replace the entire commission in a six-year period.
Also included in the resolution was a stipulation that no person, or their spouse, who is contracting with or doing business with the commission — or has any personal, financial or legal interest in any entity contracting with the commission — be eligible to serve as a representative for any of the three member localities.
The motion was seconded by Hughes and passed on a 3-1 vote with the dissenting vote coming from Maxwell. Council members R.C. Cox and Ronald Sexton were absent.
In other business, council:
• approved bids for the new regional water plan. DLB Inc. was awarded the nearly $1.3 million bid to install water lines on the Virginia side of the project and Boggs Municipal Services Inc. was awarded nearly $300,000 to install the pump station.
Council opted to go with 10-inch lines as opposed to 8-inch when bids came in lower than expected.
• received Police Chief James Wagoner’s monthly report. The report included 157 calls for service, seven summonses issued, two arrests made, two accidents investigated and 12 calls for special detail.
• paid monthly bills totaling $30,323.68.
• announced that the Christmas parade will take place Dec. 6 at 4 p.m.