The allegations, made by Lafayette attorney Steve Oats, were met without a single denial of the charge during the airport commission's regular meeting on Thursday, June 1.
Oats, who represents prominent local businessmen unsuccessful in their pitch, claimed Million Air unfairly amended its original two-page proposal to construct a fixed base operation at the local airport. He says Million Air's initial proposal failed to include requested details, and the company was allowed to resubmit it on April 1, 2005, two days after the deadline.
"In the delay between the deadline and the Million Air proposal, Million Air gets a phone call from the [airport] staff, and that generates a new proposal the next day," Oats told the commission. The April 1 proposal was eight pages long and is filled with financial and construction specifics of a proposed $6 million capital investment.
In a cover letter on his new proposal, Million Air franchisee Kenneth L. Allison wrote: "â?¦after further assessment, we have concluded that perhaps our initial proposal was too general in natureâ?¦ we have determined perhaps it would be better if we offered a more specific proposal under certain assumptions."
Unlike the public terminals for commercial airliners, fixed base operations, commonly called FBOs, serve private aviation interests. FBOs typically include hangars and a terminal with a waiting/lounge area, meeting rooms and offices. They provide a variety of services and fuel.
Lafayette has two existing fixed base operators, Paul Fournet Air Service and Lafayette Aero.
Neither submitted proposals to continue on after their leases expire in late 2007, but Richard Fournet, son of respected Lafayette aviation pioneer Paul Fournet, was slated to be hired by media executive Wayne Elmore's group, the commission's third choice. Because of the poor track record of Fournet's FBO, his association with Elmore's group hurt its FBO bid, says Airport Commission Chairman Jim Nunn.
Elmore's group planned to construct a $2 million terminal and also listed specific rents it would pay to take over both existing FBO facilities. The second place finisher, American Airports Corp. of California, has since come under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration for alleged rent and fuel violations at county-owned airports.
It is unclear at this point just how much Million Air will spend because the facilities will be constructed in phases as lease space becomes available, another point of contention among new potential investors in Elmore's group who attended Thursday's meeting. "There is a lot of gray area," said Lafayette jewelry magnate Matt Stuller, maintaining that Million Air appears to have backed away from its specific financial investment assurances. "And you are ultimately going to be the owner of this facility at the end of this lease."
Oats asked commissioners repeatedly: "Do you agree with me the process was tainted? Do you agree with me the process was unfair?" He pleaded with commissioners to scrap the selection of Million Air and start over.
"To throw local people out on a rotten process, when you're trying to get local people to fly Lafayette, is wrong," Oats says.
Lafayette Regional's director, Greg Roberts, did not deny that any information he shared with Million Air may have led to the supplemental submission. "It was an open process," he said after the meeting, explaining that collecting the proposals differs greatly from a formal bid process, which is not required by law for airport FBOs. Roberts, however, did refute the allegation that he or anyone on his staff shared information about other proposals to the benefit of Million Air.
"Perception is reality in many cases, particularly in the scrutiny of the public," Stuller said.
Fournet and Lafayette Aero are both in deplorable condition, according to October 2005 facility inspection reports obtained by The Independent Weekly. Fournet was cited for extensive rust throughout its facilities; broken windows; holes in stucco and brick masonry walls; dirty and missing carpet; and filthy vinyl tile in the bathrooms. Lafayette Aero's report was similarly disturbing.
Also at last week's meeting, Lafayette Aero asked that its lease be terminated early, which the commission granted, opening the door for Million Air to quickly take over that facility. The new 30-year lease agreement should be signed within a month, and Nunn maintains the 10,000-square-foot terminal will be similar to the one Million Air is constructing to replace its hurricane-damaged facility at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport.
Citing numerous violations of the maintenance and capital improvement provisions in Fournet's lease agreement, the commission is also seeking to end the 50-year-plus lease early, which would free up additional space for Million Air. Nunn says Fournet has had opportunities to address the problems but ignored them; the airport is pursuing an eviction.
Fournet leases approximately 125,000 square feet in terminal, hangar and office space for about $185,000 annually.
The airport commission is not privy to Fournet's financial data, but Roberts said a well-run FBO here could generate a half million in revenues after expenses.
In another strange twist, Herb Schilling of Schilling Distributing says he was recently encouraged by FBO committee chairs Brenda Burley and Dr. Chuck Wyatt to pursue the FBO opportunity. Schilling and Keith Mosing of Frank's International in Houston have a mutual interest in providing an air shuttle service from Lafayette to the Houston area ("Flight Plan," May 24) but want a first-class FBO to do it. Only recently learning of the FBO bidding, Schilling says he called Burley, Wyatt and Nunn to talk about the shuttle service and the benefits of local FBO ownership and claims they encouraged him to move forward with a proposal.
"Wyatt told me that the Million Air deal was over, as they had come back to the table to revise the contract too many times," says Schilling, who claims that prompted him to hook up with Elmore's group. Schilling is part of the investment team that includes Rodney Savoy, Mike Poole, Kenny Hix, Oats, Stuller and Mosing. "We were going to give any major tenant of the airport that owned hangars the opportunity to partner with us," Schilling notes.
Wyatt, however, denied after the June 1 meeting that he ever led Schilling to believe he had a shot at securing an FBO lease agreement, saying he only had one brief phone conversation with the businessman.
Schilling now insists he was used as a pawn. "They used us to close the deal with Million Air," he says. "At no time did any of the commissioners I had contacted say we were wasting our time [nor did they] discourage us from pursuing the FBO. In my opinion we moved pretty fast in a six-week period."
Nunn says the new Schilling-Elmore group simply came to the table too late. "The fixed base operator discussions now being promoted by a few prominent local businessmen comes over a year after the deadline for submission of proposals to the Lafayette Airport Commission," Nunn wrote in a June 30 memo two days before the meeting. Nunn won't set aside a process he says included public notice of the intent to solicit proposals, acceptance and review of the proposals, a vote of the commission and a year of negotiations. "We do not question the motives of those who would like to become involved, but we do have issues with their timing."
Nunn, who has only been on the commission for 10 months, was not part of the selection process for Million Air but says the Elmore group's decision to team up with fixed base operator Richard Fournet "absolutely" hurt its position with the commission.
The one question no one can answer fully is why the FBOs were allowed to deteriorate to such an extent. "One of the greatest embarrassments we have had at the airport was that the president of the United States could not use either of Lafayette's FBO facilities," Nunn says. In March 2001, President George Bush had to use Matt Stuller's hangar facility as a command post for the Secret Service and Air Force One team when he came to Lafayette.
Ironically, Elmore group attorney Oats chaired a previous FBO committee and served on the Airport Commission from 1998-2002, and Roberts claims he and past commissioners were not aware of the extent of the problems at the facilities until the inspection in late 2005 ' even though past inspections were conducted. Roberts now says the problems have likely persisted for more than a decade.
Nunn has little doubt the facilities have tarnished Lafayette's image in the eyes of business people coming to Lafayette. "We have tried to keep Fournet's name out of the mud out of deference to Paul Fournet," Nunn said. "[But] it's insanity to allow [those conditions] to go on."
Not everyone, however, favored protecting the Fournet name at the cost of damaging the airport's ' and the community's ' reputation. Those on both sides of this controversy say that former FBO committee chair George Armbruster III first set the wheels in motion to address the issue and see to it that the community has a top-notch welcome mat. Armbruster resigned in mid-2005 due to the demands of his law practice.
Now Lafayette has to wait and see whether it gets what Armbruster thought it deserved.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.