Cumberland Times-News

Local News

February 1, 2013

Airport authority members seek opinion on which laws to follow

Deciding what state governs board would determine how executive sessions are handled

WILEY FORD, W.Va. — The Potomac Highlands Airport Authority has been struggling with whether or not it should be governed by open meetings act laws from West Virginia or Maryland. After discussing the matter at length during the authority’s meeting on Thursday, members agreed to ask Jeff Getty, former airport attorney, to draft a letter regarding his opinion on the matter.

“We have struggled with this from this authority’s inception,” said Chairman Max White. “I think we definitely need to have a delineation here on who is going to control it if there is a question of law.”

Depending on what state the authority is governed by would determine how executive sessions are conducted, how meetings are publicized and how information is given to the public, according to White.   

“The question is what if we do something in executive session — what law applies?” said White. “West Virginia law says you can not take any action in executive session. Maryland law says that you can. We have got to get a decision on this, in my opinion.”

Getty previously re-searched the matter when he was the authority’s attorney, speaking with attorneys general from both states. He wasn’t given a definitive opinion, according to White.

“My belief is, that Jeff said you all need to decide,” said White.

John Felten, authority member, said he disagreed with Getty’s opinion.

“I don’t think this matter is something that this board can pick and choose,” said Felten. “This is a legality matter and I don’t believe this board has the authority to decide which state is going to govern (it).”

Felten and several other authority members indicated they weren’t comfortable making a decision on what state the authority would be governed by.

Dave Wimer, authority member, said the authority had been conducting business in accordance with Maryland law.

“I think Jeff felt very strongly that we were correct in operating that way. I think what he said was, ‘I feel very comfortable in what we did was legal,’” said Wimer.

Wimer suggested using both states’ laws and utilizing whichever law was more stringent.

“You could do that and there is nothing wrong with doing that,” said White. There is going to be benefits to having Maryland law on some issues and West Virgina laws on some other issues.”

In 1976, the legislatures of Maryland and West Virginia ratified the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority Compact, authorizing the creation of the authority, according to the Maryland government website. The compact was ratified by Congress in 1998. The authority is comprised of members from both states.

Authority member Creade Brodie Jr. said he spoke with Allegany County Attorney Bill Rudd about the matter.

“Bill’s opinion was that the airport was created wholeheartedly under Maryland law,” said Brodie.

Authority member Richard Lechliter questioned whether the authority would be governed by West Virginia law since the airport is located in West Virginia.

After the authority receives Getty’s recommendation, they will make a decision and then vote on it. Getty has retired as the authority’s attorney and members will seek a new attorney who can practice law in both states.

Also during the meeting, Airport Manager Ryan Shaffer provided an update on the proposed airport heritage museum and the fuel reclaiming device, also know as a sump saver.

“The Van Kirks (Steve and Malcolm) are still interested in the museum. They are running into financial issues,” said Shaffer. They are basically saying it may be a little while. They didn’t have a time frame at this point. They are still talking maybe spring.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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