On Monday, July 18, the Birmingham Airport Authority Board spent about an hour and a half in a private executive session during their monthly board meeting apparently discussing legal matters not disclosed publicly.
One of those matters may have involved Airport Authority CEO Alfonso Denson, who has been the center of some controversy recently over a gym and private shower located near Denson’s office. Attorney Ted Hosp, who is investigating that case, met with the board during part of the executive session. The Birmingham Airport Authority’s chief legal officer and general counsel Kem Marks Bryant went into the executive session after Hosp left.
Denson did not comment on the ongoing investigation during the public meeting. Hosp, who is conducting the investigation of Denson on behalf of the board, met with the board and Denson during a private executive session.
“Convening in an executive session is appropriate at this time in that the matters to be discussed involve the legal ramifications and legal options for pending litigation,” Hosp said before asking the board to move to convene the executive session.
After the executive session ended, Hosp said that no conclusions have yet been made about whether the gym violates any rules or laws, or whether Denson used public money to pay for any of the amenities.
In previous news reports airport officials have said that Denson used his own money to buy the equipment and that other employees are welcome to use the gym.
Also while in executive session, the board also discussed another, apparently unrelated legal matter.
Bryant asked the board to vote on a settlement agreement for pending litigation during the public meeting. The board decided to reconvene the public session and vote on the settlement after the executive session so that they could be privately reminded what the litigation concerned.
“If someone needs a reminder then we will have to move into an executive session, but it was addressed last month and the chair has had an opportunity to look at the actual draft,” Bryant said. No additional information about the settlement was provided in the public session.
Following the executive session the board voted unanimously in favor of approving the settlement.
Proposed Gate Project
Before the executive session convened, Mike Thompson, the director of facilities, spoke to the board about proposed plans to install 16 gates on roads north of the airport. These gates would prevent illegal dumping, said Thompson.
The 249 acres of land that would have gated access roads is bounded by East Lake Boulevard to the south, 93rd Street to the north, 19th Avenue North to the west, and Fifth Avenue North to the east.
“What we are proposing is to install some gates to restrict access to these areas. There aren’t any houses. It’s just all vacant properties,” Thompson said.
If the board approves the gates, they will ask the city of Birmingham to waive the right of way so that the gates can be installed, according to Thompson. The project has already passed through the Public Improvement and Beautification Committee.
Harry Giddens, president of Brownsville Heights Neighborhood Association, and Rodney Huntley, a representative for City Councilor William Parker, were both present at the meeting in support of the gates.
“We have a lot of problems. We need to show support in trying to solve these problems. We have a lot of cars dumping dead dogs, drugs and parking down in the dead end coming down 85th Street which is already blocked off,” Giddens said. “In this particular area, we have senior citizens, and we are trying to protect them from all this bad activity around all this vacant land.”
Giddens said he wants the board’s help to prevent the dumping which he called “a very serious situation.”
Huntley said Thompson came to several neighborhood meetings to hear feedback about the gates. “He [Thompson] has Councilor Parker’s full support, I mean as far as anything he needs to have done. I’m here to state that to the board. I spoke to Councilor Parker yesterday, and we are thankful that the board is hearing this and looking forward to a resolution,” Huntley said.
If the board approves the gate project, it will go to the Birmingham City Council and then to the mayor for approval, Thompson said.
The gates would be funded by the Birmingham Airport Authority, and Thompson said each gate will cost around $300-$400.
The board voted unanimously in favor of the gate project.
The board unanimously voted in favor of approving a $82,711 contract with Volkert, Inc. to engineer a solution to an erosion problem caused by a creek bed along Taxiway A.
The renewal of a working capital line of credit with BBVA Compass Bank was also unanimously approved by the board.
Thompson presented a slideshow of images documenting the replacement of a transformer in one of five airport substations on July 13. The replacement required partial deconstruction of a wall. “We had to take the front of the building…we had to take the windows out, the panels out. We had to demo that section of storefront out just to get the old transformer out,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that he did not expect that the transformer would need to be replaced. However, the airport has previously had to remove windows to bring in TSA equipment.
The board also received updates on the parking improvement projects from the Birmingham Airport Authority project manager, Tom Wesley.
“Several years ago we began a $10 million project to improve various facilities over in the parking deck. Last November we completed the parking deck restoration component of that project on schedule,” Wesley said. “Today we are giving you an update on the parking revenue control system replacement project.”
The project was completed on June 3 and, according to Wesley, the new system “significantly improves customer convenience and is very user friendly.”
James Ray, the director of engineering and development, updated the board on the rental car quick turn-around (QTA) project that began in May 2016.
“We’ve established a good relationship with the rental car tenants as we move forward to develop a preliminary budget and a preliminary schedule for this project,” Ray said. “Our challenge was trying to get our hands around what the rental car tenants needed.”
The current rental car facilities sit on 10 acres, and the authority is looking to acquire 30 additional acres. “We’re trying to get all the houses bought and acquired between now and August of next year, 2017,” Ray said.
Ray also provided updates on assessments being done at the request of the board on the airport facility conditions. Ray has spoken with seven employees so far, and he shared some of the comments with the board.
Board member John McMahon III, the chairman of the Community and Public Relations committee, spoke about guidelines for alerting the board before press releases are made by the Birmingham Airport Authority public relations manager, Toni Herrera-Bast.
“She [Herrera-Bast], simply in her guidelines, has moved or added a section to notify the head of the PR committee or the chairman of the board when there are going to be press releases made so we are aware, for one, and if we ever feel the need to be involved, we have that option,” McMahon said.