County Council still up in the air with aviation board appointments


May 12--The Beaufort County Council filled three of five vacancies Monday on the restructured Aviation Advisory Board amidst rising concerns about inconsistencies in the nomination process and a lack of balance on the panel.

Council members debated the merits of the seven nominees for more than 40 minutes and approved three:

--Norman Kerr, representing recently retired or active commercial-commuter pilot

--Monte Leath, as the nominee of the Hilton Head Island Town Council

--Joseph Mazzei, representing an active pilot or aircraft owner based at the Hilton Head Island Airport

Left unfilled was the seat reserved for a candidate with a professional aviation background. Neither Bill Coleman nor Anne Esposito garnered enough votes to snag that spot.

Also left open was a seat reserved for someone who lives within four miles of Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island. The council will revisit the remaining appointments at its May 26 meeting.

The three appointed were recommended by the Public Facilities Committee, formerly the Public Safety Committee. Councilman Steve Baer, a committee member, said the choices lack diversity because they do not include a minority from north of the Broad, a Bluffton resident or a female,but still were solid overall.

The terms are staggered as the panel evolves into its new form.

"We (have) the chance to change 36 percent of(the board) within eight months, and another 18 percent or so a few months after," Baer said. "This was a very good, balanced slate."

Members of the Hilton Head/Bluffton Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Baygall Property Owners'Association and the Port Royal Property Owner's Association wrote to the council last week of their concern over the possibility that the 11-member airports board would be overloaded with pilots.

They encouraged the council to approve the committee's choices.

"A change to the committee recommendation is seen as politicizing the board in a way that is an extreme disappointment to the community, with the likelihood that we will question the motives of every future move of the (board)," wrote Charles Young, president of the Baygall association.

But council chairman Weston Newton said he nominated Esposito -- a former board member who was not recommended by the committee -- according to council rules. Many residents told him they believed Esposito was purposely left out, he said.

"We effectively regulated out of office the only female that was serving on our board, the most highly qualified," Newton said. "The fact that she was regulated out of office has been the tip of the spear for a lot of folks. Our goal with regard to this board is transparency, balance. It has been a continuous challenge."