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.
That would be Congressman John Fleming talking about Sen. David Vitter.
The alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme that went on for four years under DA Mike Harson’s nose isn’t just schizophrenic, bipolar and recovering from mini strokes; he now says he has cancer.
Louisiana's higher education leaders are trying to work out a financing deal to keep the state's public colleges from running low on state cash to operate their campuses.
With their latest triumph, the Saints left little doubt about how tough they are to beat in the Superdome. Unfortunately, two of their remaining three games are on the road.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, December 10, 2013:
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
Last week, the Saints gave up 429 yards to Seattle, second most in a game this season.
Since Anthony Jennings and Brooks Haack were not expected to contribute until next year at the earliest, it seemed like a sneak peek at hidden Christmas gifts.
Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team's stellar defensive play so far this season. "Apparently we like to bite on the double moves," Rivera said.
Computer hackers may have gained access to the personal information of thousands of Louisiana residents who use debit cards issued by JPMorgan Chase for three state agencies, authorities said Wednesday.
Jim Purcell, who has been in the job since February 2011, notified the Board of Regents about his decision at its monthly meeting.
Hushed plans for a commercial development along the Louisiana Avenue portion of the Holy Rosary campus put the future of longtime tenant EarthShare Gardens in jeopardy.
If a recent advertisement in The Daily Advertiser is any indication, speculation the local daily will be implementing the “Butterfly Project” could be more of a reality than the Gannett-owned paper’s top execs are willing to admit.
Mettenberger injured his left knee while unloading a 32-yard completion in the fourth quarter of No. 14 LSU's 31-27 victory over Arkansas last Friday, and LSU coach Les Miles confirmed the severity of the injury on Wednesday.
An ordinance to phase out a 2 percent rebate to Lafayette merchants for collecting and remitting on time sales taxes cleared the City-Parish Council by a 6-3 vote.
Louisianans are the fourth most likely to use profanity yet also the fourth most likely to be courteous. So, please, just kiss my a** ... if it’s not too much trouble.
The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted Tuesday to authorize two lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A long night on the field in Seattle got even worse off of it, and now the Saints are operating on a compressed time-frame as they brace for surging Carolina with first place in the NFC South at stake.
Public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion won't be affected by Louisiana's shift to more rigorous educational standards for two years, the state's top school board decided Tuesday.
Vitter told The Associated Press that he is sending an email to supporters Wednesday and is in discussions with his family about the possibility.