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Thursday, March 30, 2006 | Saying that the airport authority needs more accountability, a local state legislator is proposing legislation that would have voters choose the authority’s board of directors, rather than local and state politicians, and trim the board’s membership from nine to five.
Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, is drafting a proposal that would provide board members with all the trappings of an elected official, including term limits and a salary that would be tied to those of Assembly members.
La Suer said the authority is tasked with making major policy decisions that affect millions of people – such as finding an airport site that could replace Lindbergh Field – and needs more accountability.
“Our country was designed with the idea that we’d have representative government,” La Suer said. “I don’t see that with this airport authority.”
La Suer proposes to draw five authority board members from districts already established for the county’s board of supervisors. It would eliminate the need for demographic studies, La Suer said. Board members would be limited to two four-year terms.
The legislation would not affect the current airport site selection process, he said. The airport authority is required to identify a new site for voters to consider on November’s ballot.
In an effort led by then-State Sen. Steve Peace, the state legislature created the airport authority three years ago, removing control from the Unified Port of San Diego. The authority board was created with nine members appointed to terms ranging from two to six years. Three members – Joe Craver, William D. Lynch and Xema Jacobson – sit on the executive committee.
Positions on the executive committee are full-time and paid, while the remaining six positions are volunteers appointed, and sometimes self-appointed, by other elected officials around the county.
Members are appointed by a host of regional and state officials. San Diego’s mayor gets three appointments, including one on the executive committee. The governor and San Diego County sheriff appoint the other two executive committee members, who are paid $149,160 annually. (Lynch eschews his annual salary.)
Mayors in Chula Vista, East County, inland North County and coastal North County each get one appointment.
La Suer acknowledged his fellow assemblymen may be resistant to tinkering with the authority’s management so soon after its creation, but said he cannot imagine a reason anyone would oppose the idea.
At least one Assemblyman is supportive: George Plescia, R-Mira Mesa, who has opposed the authority’s study of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which sits in his district.
“They are a rogue organization,” said Brandon Waters, Plescia’s spokesman. “They’re pursing only their own selfish interests and aren’t taking into account any of our national security needs and aren’t listening to anything that the military has to say.”
Jack Monger, a governmental relations consultant for several local organizations that do business with the authority, said volunteer appointments haven’t worked, citing the early departure of some board members who have left for other engagements before key votes.
“I think [the proposal] might be a very effective refinement of what we have now,” Monger said. “I think we need regional representation. It’s really the region’s airport.”
The authority board’s executive committee – Craver, Lynch and Jacobson – have met with La Suer and discussed proposal. La Suer has asked for feedback from the board. Craver is scheduled to brief the full nine-member board at its Monday meeting.
“It’s an issue that we’re not going to ignore,” Craver said. “But how we handle it and what the board comes up with, I don’t know.”
Craver would not say whether he would agree to run for election.
“I would have to go ahead and think about that,” he said. “Right now I’m really occupied with the site selection and the land use. Since [La Suer] mentioned that, it’s something I need to think about.”
Jacobson said she would agree to run for election. But she said she wants to first hear feedback from other board members.
“I have no idea how this discussion will go on Monday,” she said. “It should be interesting.”
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