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April 14, 2024

Shelby County Airport FBO – Improper Leasing Of Airport Property

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On January 22, 2024

Shelby Co. (ECWd) –

On August 18, 2023, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), request to the Shelby County Airport for a copy of the Fixed Base Operators’ (FBO), contract and some other basic information.  The date is significant in light of the events that took place after the request.

On August 19, 2023, one day after the FOIA request, the FOIA officer complied with the required FOIA training and produced the requested certificate of training.  When a FOIA request results in compliance with the law, it is a good thing. See FOIA certificate at this link.

Between August 20st and 22nd, 2023, two-four days after the FOIA request, the board members complied with the required Open Meetings Act training, and those certificates were provided. Another example of a FOIA request triggering compliance with the law, while a good thing, such compliance should not have needed a FOIA request for compliance. See OMA certificates at this link.

On August 21, 2023, three days after the FOIA request, the Airport Board held a special meeting with some very interesting things on the agenda that were a direct result of our August 18, 2023, FOIA request.  See the agenda at this link.

3. Discussion and vote to approve revised FBO contract
4 Discussion and vote to approve appointment of FOIA officer for Airport and Landing Fields Commission

The fact a special meeting was called and they were going to approve an FBO contract indicates there was no contract to provide.

Why did we FOIA this information in the first place?  We were informed that space was being leased out in the main hangar, payable to the FBO whom is Scott and Jamie Jefson as the managers of Shelby County Aviation LLC.  Such leasing is not permitted since the contracts forbid subleasing by the FBO;

“Will allow FBO exclusive use of maintenance hangar rent free. FBO may not sublease hangar space.” (emphasis added)

We obtained proof of subleasing (rental payments) which included a date range of February 2020 through September 2020.

Considering the contract in place at the time these payments were made forbid any subleasing it appears the FBO, Shelby County Aviation, LLC, has been profiting from the leasing of county airport-owned property in violation of their contract.

On Agust 23, 2023, five days after our initial FOIA request, the board entered into a new contract with the FOB.  While we appreciated getting a copy of a brand new contract, our FOIA request was for the one at the time of the request, not one entered into 4 days after our request. A copy of the current contract can be viewed at this link.

A follow-up FOIA request for the contract that was in place before August 23, 2023, resulted in the production of an “expired” contract dated May of 2020.  A copy of the expired contract is at this link.

The 2020 contract has a termination date of April 30, 2022.  That contract outlined a payment of $3,500.00 a month to the FBO.  Those payments continued even though there was no valid contract from May 1, 2022, through August 22, 2023.   A follow-up request for earlier contracts exposed yet another break in the timeline of contracts.  This same FBO had a contract between March 1, 2015, through February 28, 2018.  There has been no contract produced covering the time between the termination point of the February 28, 2018, contract, and the May 1, 2020, contract, yet the same $3,500 monthly payments were being paid.

We asked for comment on the improper leasing by the FBO and whether or not the practice continues and have not received a response at the time of publication.  We asked because we have been told off the record that there were others also paying rent to Shelby County Aviation LLC, before our initial FOIA request and that the practice continues under the new lease with the belief their change in language makes it OK to sublease.

This alleged belief would be incorrect as the current contract, while void of any prohibition of subleasing like prior contracts, is silent on subleasing. Silence is a prohibition, just as is the language that is in the new contract.  The board removed the prohibition of subleasing from the contract after our initial request which indicates no permission was given either way and also states: “Will allow FBO exclusive use of maintenance hangar rent free.”

The plain reading of that language indicates only the FBO is allowed the “exclusive” use of the maintenance hanger.  That language indicates no other person or entity may use the hanger, full stop.

This is yet another example of failed oversight by a public body that resulted in a private entity profiting from the leasing of county property in violation of its contract with the public body.

Will Shelby County taxpayers seek accountability when county airport property is being leased in violation of the contracts and payments made for what appears to be several years when no contract existed?

 

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