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Up in the air no longer: Judge’s ruling keeps McClure on the airport authority

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Jackson County Airport Authority members are hoping to get on with business following a Superior Court ruling that re-establishes Tom McClure as the authority’s rightful chairman.


Last Tuesday (Feb. 14) Superior Court Judge Zoro Guice ruled that while county commissioners attempted to remove McClure from the Economic Development Commisison and Airport Authority, they never had power to do so. Guice decided that county commissioners broke the law and denied McClure due process when they attempted to remove him from his two appointed posts. McClure is Western Carolina University’s appointment to the EDC and thereby can only be removed by the school; the Airport Authority is a state-created entity over which the county does not rule.

“We hope that with this ruling the county will settle down and leave us alone,” McClure said.

The lawsuit that led to the ruling was filed only in regards to McClure’s attempted removal from the Airport Authority, not his attempted removal from the EDC. Plaintiffs Jim Rowell and Eldridge Painter, who also served on the Airport Authority, joined the suit in a show of support for McClure after commissioners decided that none of the appointments to the authority were done correctly.

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McClure’s name, along with those of the other five members of the authority, was not submitted as a choice of at least two potential appointments to the authority, said commissioners’ attorney Paul Holt during a meeting held Jan. 31, 2005.

And neither McClure nor the other five members of the authority was ever sworn into office, as called for by the general statutes that created the authority, said then commission chairman Stacy Buchanan.

Commissioners decided to reappoint their appointees — Gary Buchanan, Chip Hall, Commissioner Eddie Madden, Eldridge Painter and Jim Rowell — just for good measure.

However Rowell, who lost his position as authority treasurer in the process, took issue with the reappointments, saying he saw no need to be reappointed to his position unless he was first removed from it.

Authority members never were removed, rather they were simply said not to exist as members.

In five separate motions, commissioners re-nominated each authority member except McClure, unanimously accepting each member. Exactly how this re-nomination process, which did not include the submission of at least two potential appointee’s names, was any more legal than the process by which they were originally appointed was never explained.

The five newly re-appointed authority members were asked to bring two names to county commissioners for commissioners to choose from in filling McClure’s vacancy. McClure’s name was submitted, but not chosen.

Although the Airport Authority and EDC are not technically related, the Authority was dragged in to the political quagmire based on little more than the fact that McClure was the authority’s chairman and — while commissioners never specifically cited it as a cause — county officials had learned of statutory violations in the authority’s financial records.

In a letter addressed to McClure and dated Dec. 8, 2003, State Treasury officials reprimanded the chairman for two violations committed during the 2002-03 fiscal year — not adopting an annual budget and failing to establish a separate fund for the proceeds of any debt issued to finance the renovations to the airport terminal building.

However, by February 2005, State Treasury officials said that the authority’s budget violation had been resolved, and that the debt proceeds account was no longer an issue — not because the violations were corrected, but because the debts were repaid.

Airport authority members are planning to hold a meeting within the next week to begin moving forward with airport projects.

“We need to do the terminal and we need to build hanger space,” McClure said.

Currently there are about three dozen names on a waiting list for hanger space, McClure said.

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