It’s no surprise that uncertainty surrounds the city of Yakima’s move to change the Yakima Air Terminal’s ownership and management structure. That’s because uncertainty inherently hampers the current setup, in which the appointed airport board makes decisions but has to confer with the co-owners of the airport, which are the city of Yakima and Yakima County.
At a Dec. 17 airport board meeting, chairman Les Flue said the city-county setup results in a board that bears responsibility for decisions but lacks the authority to carry them out. And it seems the money-strapped airport has seen as many managers as it has commercial flights in recent years.
Earlier this year, the board dismissed Lee Remmel as airport manager, amid finger-pointing by all sides about who was displaying the least amount of leadership. The dismissal prompted board member Bill Wheeler to resign in protest. Right now, the manager position is vacant, with assistant manager Rob Peterson sharing the duties with board members. Remmel’s predecessor, Michael Redmond, left in 2010 after 18 months on the job.
The Yakima City Council earlier this month approved a recommendation by City Manager Tony O’Rourke to have the city take sole ownership of the airport and study ways to change the management structure. One option would change the airport board’s role to that of an advisory group, which may not be all that different from how it’s functioning now.
O’Rourke is a strong advocate of public-private partnerships, and organizations or businesses interested in running the airport have until Jan. 7 to submit ideas for running some or all of the airport’s operations. O’Rourke envisions a public-private partnership similar to what he set up in Vail, Colo.; the partnership there consisted of more than 30 public and private-sector entities with members pledging money for airline guarantees, marketing and administrative costs. O’Rourke says the Vail airport has gone from no commercial air service in 1989 to four airlines serving 12 nonstop markets during the winter ski season.
A number of airport interests, from occupants of airport hangars to labor representatives, also raise legitimate questions about the coming changes. But amid the uncertainty, there is one certainty: The new setup — whatever its form — must offer clear lines of authority and accountability. That would enable an effective long-range plan to get the airport off the ground again.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.