Durel: No probe of airport board

LAFAYETTE - City-Parish President Joey Durel has said no to a group that wanted city-parish attorneys to look into the way the Lafayette Airport Commission awarded a contentious lease for a fixed-base operator two years ago.

The airport commission awarded the contract to Million Air, which promised a series of improvements at the airport. A group of Lafayette investors who had submitted a competing proposal have alleged since then that the negotiations were unfair and that the commission has not held Million Air to the standards agreed to in the contract.

The group has started a Web site to detail its concerns at http://www.lacbaitandswitch.com.

The group invited Durel to a Sept. 17 meeting where they detailed their concerns and requested that Durel, as the "overseer" of the airport, have a legal opinion rendered on the matter.

Two weeks later, City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger responded in a letter that the state Attorney General's Office will not give opinions in matters where litigation is threatened or "imminent."

The group has filed two complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration over the matter.

Ottinger wrote that the public's money could "lawfully be expended to research the facts and the law and render an opinion which is principally intended for the purpose and benefit of private citizens."

On Oct. 5, the group responded in an e-mail - also sent out to members of the media - by spokeswoman Marilynn Fournet Adams.

Adams wrote to Durel that the airport commission "falls under your supervision," and that he'd promised to obtain the legal opinions they'd asked for.

"Regardless of what you have to do to obtain them, we are still expecting you to honor your promises to us that day," Adams wrote.

Durel responded in another e-mail that afternoon saying he appreciates the group's "passion," but he stood by Ottinger's opinion. "So until some new development occurs, we can do nothing further," Durel wrote. Ottinger added that Durel only appoints one of the seven members of the commission. "I fail to see how this makes the airport 'under his supervision' or makes Joey the 'overseer' of the airport," Ottinger wrote. Adams responded Monday, again by e-mail. In connection with one of the group's complaints, the FAA directed the group to include the city-parish government in its complaint, as the city parish - while not the operator of the airport - has sponsored the airport's grants. The public has an interest in knowing whether the commission properly followed the law, Adams wrote.