City of Gary officials weigh proposed Airport Board changes
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent January 22, 2013 7:54PM
Gary City Councilman Roy Pratt. November 2011. Post-Tribune file photo.
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:26AM
GARY — The state may want to take over the Gary/Chicago International Airport’s governance, but the Chicago/Gary Airport Authority Compact may render those efforts for naught.
Formed to stave off a similar takeover of Midway, O’Hare International and the former Meigs Field the Illinois General Assembly attempted in 1995, the interstate compact has been upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, Gary City ouncilman Roy Pratt, D-at large, explained in a Tuesday morning news conference he called. Several cities, such as New York City, have interstate compacts that set the precedent.
Senate Bill 0585, written and sponsored by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, seeks to install an additional five governor-appointed members to the Airport Authority Board as well as one apiece from Lake and Porter counties. Also, the bill calls for Gov. Mike Pence to name the new board’s chairman.
The compact, which provides the city with a share of facility charges collected from Midway and O’Hare, allows for a seven-member board, with an appointment each from Lake and Porter counties.
“The law says that the compact is in charge, and (the city of Gary) still has control,” Pratt said. “I have people who’re wanting me to say this is racial, and it’s not — we’re talking about power, here — but now they’re getting insulting. They want to trick us.”
Pratt said because the compact was created to help Chicago keep control of its airports, he’s confident Chicago will defend Gary against the bill.
Chicago/Gary Airport Authority member and city of Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton didn’t return calls for comment.
If the compact authority doesn’t defend the city with Pratt, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson says she will.
That isn’t to say Freeman-Wilson doesn’t support the bill. She’s a proponent of it and what it has to offer the city. But even if the bill makes it sound like the state is trying to strip away Gary’s remaining assets — which she doesn’t believe to be true — she appreciates the message behind some of the language.
“Folks have been watching us (with the airport), and they’ve been underwhelmed. Got it,” she said. “Is the solution having the governor come in? No, but let’s find something that addresses the concerns.
“The (proposed port at Buffington Harbor) is a much bigger opportunity than the airport, and the trauma center is huge. Also, the gaming licenses are privately owned, why would the governor take something from the business community without an exchange with the entity that owns the license?”
Former city Corporation Counsel MacArthur Drake, who was part of the team that drafted the compact in 1995, agreed the bill doesn’t have to be omnibus legislation.
“There’s no reason we have to give up the airport, and there’s no reason you have to give up one of the gaming licenses to get a trauma center,” he said. “It’s better for the citizens to vote on these items one at a time.”
Post-Tribune staff writer Matt Mikus contributed to this report.