Thursday, August 31, 2006

BatesLine: FAA letter regarding Jones Riverside Airport

Over on, Michael Bates has an entry on a recent letter sent by Ed Chambers, of the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth, informing the Tulsa Airport Authority and Airport Director Jeff Mulder, that they are not treating fixed base operators at Jones/Riverside Airport equally.

I've been familiar for years with the development of this story, and know many of the players, at least by name. Even so, I found the story tough to follow, because it's a complex issue. However, I recommend that you take the time to wade through Bates' piece, because it's going to be a major issue in this town in the coming months.

One issue of note to add to what Michael Bates has written.

He tells of two hangars being built on potential sites for a future airport tower. Kent Faith of Roadhouse Aviation was required to have a memorandum attached to his lease stating that he would tear down his building, at his own expense, should the FAA choose that site for a new tower. The two new hangars don't have the same caveat.

Faith's restriction was argued for and secured by TAIT board member Ron Turner, who was selected for his position in 2002 by Mayor LaFortune at the urging of newly elected City Councilor Bill Christiansen. Bates reports that the two new hangars that don't include the restriction on their leases are for business owned by that same Bill Christiansen and another JRA tenant, Ray Booker.

Why would Airport Director Mulder not insist on Christiansen and Booker having the same restriction as Kent Faith? Perhaps it has to do with who hired him?

On April 2, 2005, the Tulsa World's D.R. Stewart wrote a story announcing the hiring of Jeff Mulder, who had previously been the airport director at Outagamie County Regional Airort in Appleton, Wisconsin. Needless to say, the Tulsa job was quite a step up for the relatively young Mr. Mulder.

So how was Mr. Mulder selected for this career advancing position? Then Mayor LaFortune hired him based on the recommendation of a five-person committee who selected Mulder from a list of three candidates.

And who was on that committee?

The selection committee was comprised of Gen. Stephen Cortright, federal security director in the Tulsa office of the Transportation Security Administration; Interim Aiport Director, City Clerk and City Finance Director, Mike Kier; LaFortune, Mayor of Tulsa; and get this, Gen. Ron Turner [Christiansen crony] and LINDA BOOKER, wife of RAY BOOKER.

In Stewart's story, he wrote the following about LaFortune's gratitude to the search committee:

"I am grateful for the time and effort each of the members of the committee gave to this important selection," LaFortune said. "Together they brought a vast amount of expertise and experience in commercial, military and general aviation to the process. The committee's work has been focused on the greater good for Tulsa."
Given that Turner [the former head of Tulsa's Air National Guard] and Cortright [the former Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard] were already pretty tight, and that LaFortune had named both Turner and Kier to their posts at the airport, only Mrs. Booker lacked a direct relationship to the other four. So they apparently brought more to the table than just a "vast amount of expertise."

The committee's work may have focussed on "the greater good for Tulsa," but human nature being what it is, I'm sure there might have been some sidewards glances to some more personal and private agendas that the right hire might bring.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Mr. Mulder would, a year later, fail to hold Christiansen and Booker to the same draconian conditions as Gen. Turner had insisted be placed upon Kent Faith and Roadhouse Aviation.

After all, he owed them his job.

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