Flawed Branson Airport contract taints board as it tries to launder funds

At the outset, let’s make one thing perfectly clear, the issue is not about the Branson Airport whether its good or bad, should have been built or not etc. It’s about a contract that has the potential to cost the taxpayers of the city of Branson up to $2 million dollars per year for 30 years. A contract that is so one-sided and unconscionable on its face that most objective people looking at it would say, “Wow, what a gift for the airport. The city pays up to $60 million to the airport to spend without restrictions of any kind simply for running their business?” Others might ask, “How can I get the same type of deal?”

In an Ole Seagull’s opinion, up until the Jan. 12 Branson Board of Aldermen meeting, the stench of the Branson Airport Contract, “negotiated” under the regime of former City Administrator Terry Dody and what the Ole Seagull refers to as his “merry band of men,” had not tainted the new administration and board that has developed since the 2007 elections. To an Ole Seagull that contract is the perfect illustration of the arrogance and attitude of a city leadership that, whether it was claiming the right to the name “Branson,” authorizing 25 story buildings, or using its power and authority to impede the rights of citizens to speak freely at public meetings, did what they wanted to and when they wanted to with impunity up until the 2007 elections.

There are relatively few times in a person’s life time when they have a second opportunity to right an obvious wrong. The current Mayor, staff, and Board of Aldermen were presented with just such an opportunity. While obviously only a judge can determine the legality of a contract and how it is being performed, the city recently paid tens of thousands of dollars to get two different legal opinions on the contract. In general they both agreed that the current contract was not legal or enforceable as written.

The current board and  administration had an opportunity to correct a wrong. One way would have been by simply telling the Branson Airport, “We don’t believe the agreement is legal or enforceable and do not intend to pay one red cent under its provisions.” Another could have been by saying “We don’t believe the agreement is legal or enforceable, but we would be willing to work with you to see if we can negotiate an agreement that would be fair to both parties, limit the payment of any city funds to the first time a passenger flies into Branson excluding subsequent trips and addressing other concerns the city or community might have.”

Instead, after about a year of closed door discussions on the matter and being informed of the legal opinions as to the illegality of the contract what does the board and mayor do? It passes a resolution reading, “The Board of Aldermen hereby authorizes payment in the amount of $77,101.68 for the first quarter billing as identified and recommended by the City’s Auditor, subject to the modification of the Pay for Performance agreement allowing payments to the Branson Airport Transportation Development District.”

By that simple action, in the opinion of an Ole Seagull, the board and mayor chose to taint themselves with the stench from the Branson Airport Contract. Instead of doing the honorable thing and calling the Branson Airport Agreement the one-sided unconscionable and illegal agreement it is, the city appears to be trying to launder the payments through another entity, not a party to the contract, in an attempt to make something they have been advised is illegal legal and, in doing so, appears to give the appearance of ratifying the contract.

To their credit Alderman Rick Davis, Sandra Williams, and Chris Bohinc voted against the resolution while Aldermen Bob Simmons, Mike Booth, and Rick Todd voted for it and surprisingly, Mayor Raeanne Presley broke the tie by voting for it. It has been said this is just the beginning of the process and public discussion on the issue.

To an Ole Seagull, the resolution itself and the fact that the issue has been discussed for over a year without public participation speaks volumes about how close to the beginning of the process things and the value that was put on public input. Who was it that said, “The more things change the more they stay the same?”

Leave a Comment