No referendum on Airport Authority in November

Board of Commissioner
Defiant to the end and obviously irritated that he was not going to have the support he needed to push for a referendum to abolish the St. Augustine Airport Authority, County Commission Chairman Thomas Manuel made a final, threatening challenge to the airport’s Executive Director, Edward Wuellner … get off the tax rolls by October 1, 2009 or face “very aggressive” efforts to abolish the Airport Authority.

The St. Johns County Commission meeting went on until 11:00 p.m. last night and the remainder of the agenda for “Referendum Day” had to be postponed because of the length of time required to hear all of the speakers.

At one point, Manuel called for the early adjournment of the meeting which drew load moans and scoffs from the audience who had taken time to attend. County Commissioner Ron Sanchez objected to Manuel’s request saying that everyone who wanted to be heard on the airport authority issue should be allowed to be heard at that time.

As the evening went on, another recess had to be called to allow GTV to “change their CD” in order to record all of the public comments.

When Wuellner, who was the last speaker to present, quoted figures from the county audit that appeared to support the management of the airport and contradict public comments aired by Manuel in recent months, co-chair Cyndi Stevenson became noticeably shaken and objected to how Wuellner was characterizing the meaning of the figures.

Manuel used that opportunity to object again; stating that Wuellner’s figures were not true and inferring that Wuellner was not bringing forward reliable information. Sanchez interjected and received applause from the audience by saying that he found the presentation “very informative”.

At the conclusion of Wuellner’s PowerPoint presentation, each of the five commissioners made their remarks. Sanchez made a motion, seconded by Stevenson and Jim Bryant, that a “staw vote” concerning the abolishment of the Airport Authority not be included on November’s general election ballot.

Bryant explained that polls show that the public wants the Airport Authority to continue as an independently elected board. Stevenson seemed conciliatory in her remarks to Wuellner, apologizing for raising her voice but still appearing unsettled with the audit figures used by Wuellner.

Ben Rich commented, in advance of the unanimous decision to adopt the motion, predicting a “5-0 vote”. He said that he had not seen the public polling results Bryant referred to but remarked that he didn’t believe too much in polls since polls showed his political opponent winning in his campaign four years ago for the seat that Rich now holds.

Rich’s comments towards Wuellner were pointed — although not as sharp as Manuel. Rich stated that he’d heard promises in the past that had not come to fruition and said that the airport authority needed to make good on its promise to be off the ad valorem tax rolls by fiscal year 2010 as represented.

St. Johns County press photo