Court rules documents must be released

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson has scored another victory in its battle to keep the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers Airport.

Recently, a magistrate ruled that Gov. Phil Bryant had to release internal documents related to the passage of SB 2162, also known as the airport takeover bill.

Attorneys for the governor asked the courts to seal all documents related to the case, but the motion was denied without prejudice by U.S. District Court Magistrate F. Keith Ball.

Under the order, Ball said only documents that were considered privileged, such as communications between the governor, his staff and lawmakers, could be sealed.

Other documents and communications, such as those with third parties, had to be released.

The decision was handed down in late April, months after lawmakers were told they had to release certain documents related to the passage of the legislation.

The law was passed in 2015, but is currently being blocked by the courts and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Last fall, attorneys for the airport subpoenaed documents from Sens. Josh Harkins and Dean Kirby and Rep. Mark Baker and others for “any and all … e-mail communications and text messages” related to SB 2162.

Attorneys said the documents were needed to help determine the motives behind the takeover.

City officials claim the state is attempting to take over the airport because of race.

The airport is located in a majority black city, and is managed by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA). JMAA’s board membership is all African-American.

Meanwhile, SB 2162 was authored and co-authored by white, Rankin County Republicans.

Lawmakers asked the court to reject the subpoena, arguing the documents were privileged, and that requiring their release would chill efforts to pass legislation in the future.

Ball, though, handed JMAA a partial victory, saying that private correspondence between lawmakers and staff members would remain private, but any communications lawmakers shared with third parties should be released.

It was unknown if those documents had been obtained at press time.

Fred Banks, an attorney for JMAA, declined to comment.

John Walker, also an attorney for the airport authority, couldn’t be reached for comment.

 

Lawmakers approved the takeover in 2016.

Under 2162, the state would do away with JMAA and replace it with a nine-member regional board, with two members appointed by the governor and one member each appointed by the Jackson mayor, the Jackson City Council, the Madison County Board of Supervisors, the Rankin County Board of Supervisors and the lieutenant governor. One representative each also would be appointed by the adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard and by the Mississippi Development Authority.

By contrast, the JMAA board has five members, all five of whom are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.

The law also changes requirements for serving on the board. The governor’s appointees, for example, must have a “valid pilot’s license or certification issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.” Other commissioners must have experience in other fields, including accounting, financial analysis, executive management in business, aviation, economic development, commercial, construction or aviation law and other areas.

The only qualifications for current board members include living in the capital city.

The law was slated to take effect on July 1 of that year, but the measure has been blocked by the courts and the federal government.

In 2016, the FAA issued a policy statement saying that it would not transfer a certificate unless both parties agreed to terms of the takeover. When no agreement can be reached, the case must be settled through litigation before the transfer would be approved.

A similar airport takeover in North Carolina was halted, thanks to the FAA policy.

Social

Robert H. Watson will receive Mississippi College’s Award of Excellence at the university’s 2018 homecoming.

Activities include an October 26 awards banquet at Anderson Hall.