Current FBO Operator Wants to Know How the Process Unfolded
MONTROSE COUNTY – Black Canyon Partners, operator of the Black Canyon Jet Center, the Montrose Regional Airport’s only Fixed-Base Operator, has filed a civil complaint against nine Montrose County officials for allegedly withholding public documents it requested during the recent Request For Proposals process for a second FBO at the airport.
The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 23, two days after Montrose County Manager Rick Eckert announced a committee’s findings that Majestic Skies of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of two applicants that met the minimum requirements to be an FBO. That finding now obligates the county, per Federal Aviation Administration Grant Assurances policy, to enter into contract negotiations, which if successful would make Majestic Skies the second FBO at the airport.
While the FAA Grant Assurances policy stipulates that the county must consider possible FBOs that meet minimum requirements, its policy is ambiguous as to whether the county can simply deny new FBO applications based on economic or market circumstances.
The lawsuit, in which Jet Center Partners and Black Canyon Jet Center General Manager Ken Watson are named as plaintiffs, seeks to show cause as to why public records that Jet Center Partners requested during the FBO review process have not been made available. In addition, the complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that the Montrose County Commissioners violated the Colorado Sunshine Law by adopting a position (allegedly engaging in negotiations with private parties interested in becoming a FBO and then authorizing the issuance of an RFP to initiate those negotiations) outside of a public meeting.
The defendants named in the civil action include County Clerk and Recorder Francine Tipton-Long and commissioners Gary Ellis, Ron Henderson and David White. Those who sat on the committee to review FBO proposals, including Eckert, Aviation Director Lloyd Arnold, Road and Bridge Fleet manager David Laursen and County Budget Manager Lanny Paulson, are also defendants in the complaint.
According to a Montrose County press release in November, the county received requests from private businesses looking to create a second FBO at the airport. In response to those requests, the county decided undertake a formal Request For Proposals process. The committee was then tasked with reviewing the proposals that came in to see if they met the minimum requirements for an FBO at the airport, as set forth in in the RFP. The committee presented its findings in a public meeting on Jan. 21.
During the review process, officials at Jet Center Partners made numerous document requests under the Colorado Open Records Act, including the original letter to the county referenced in the RFP as being the catalyst for issuing the RFP. Jet Center Partners also requested communications among and between county officials concerning the reasons for issuing the RFP.
“After it became apparent that the county had to be doing more than just reading the proposals received on Oct. 25, we submitted [Colorado Open Records Act] requests to get some sense for what was going on,” Watson said on Tuesday. “The information requested included the letter that the county says triggered the RFP, information about who received the RFP, the proposals themselves, documents related to communications between the county and the proposers, documents that help understand what the RFP staff committee was doing, and any viability or other second FBO studies. The county responded by saying that there were no viability or second FBO studies but, for the most part, that other information was not public or didn't exist.”
On Dec. 24, according to the complaint, Tipton-Long’s office sent a letter denying access to the requested records because they were “not public records at this time,” and/or were not “county records.” On Jan. 6, Jet Center Partners sent a second round of requests to inspect public records concerning the RFP but this time requested documents on the personal computers and smart phones of those county individuals involved. Again, according to the complaint, those record requests were refused and refused without explanation.
“To cover the possibility that the County is claiming that for CORA purposes it isn't the custodian of public records that are created on personal computers or smartphones, we then made the same basic requests to the individuals involved in the RFP process,” Watson said. “That didn't result in any additional documents. Therefore we brought a CORA action to obtain copies of those documents. The county will respond to our Amended Complaint by mid-February. A hearing on the County's refusal to respond to CORA requests will then be held.”
Montrose County Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said the county is not commenting on the civil complaint at this time. According to Arnold, county staff will be engaging in negotiations with Majestic Skies and it is unclear when or if a proposal will be presented to the commissioners for their review.