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The Tennessean

Nashville airport board bill marches on, despite concern from former FAA official

By Sandy Mazza, Nashville Tennessean,


Republican lawmakers aren't backing off their effort to give state officials the power over Nashville's airport board, which governs Nashville International and John C. Tune airports.

Nashville's Democratic representatives and a former associate FAA administrator argued passionately against the bill during the House Government Operations Committee on Monday. But HB 1176 passed the panel, continuing its advance toward a floor vote in the House. It now goes before the House finance committee for consideration.

In the Senate, the bill goes before the Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

"This bill will cause substantial conflict and it will be expensive," said airports consultant Kirk Shaffer, who resigned from the FAA in response to the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. "The consistency and constancy of governance for which Metro Nashville Airport Authority has always been known will be jeopardized."

Shaffer served in the FAA as the associated administrator for airports in administrations of Republican Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. He is a former attorney for the Nashville airport board.

He said the bill could jeopardize federal grants and land the state in a lengthy legal battle, citing examples in Charlotte, Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi. The Republican House sponsor countered that those cases involve the creation of new agencies and aren't comparable.

This is one of at least four pieces of legislation that state leaders introduced in January to curb Nashville's power.

Last week, Lee signed a bill to slash in half the city's 40-member Metro Council. A lawsuit was filed Monday in response, alleging the state violated the Tennessee Constitution.

Nashville's mayor currently has the power to appoint the airport board members as long as they meet certain requirements, such as local residence and expertise in aviation and finance.

The new bill would split appointing power for a new 10-member board to the governor and the speakers of the House and Senate. Each would get three appointments. Nashville's mayor, or his or her designee, would a nonvoting, ex-officio member.

A similar bill would transfer power to the state to appoint the majority of members to the Sports Authority board, which manages Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena and other venues. Nashville's Music City Center was also targeted in another bill to curb the power of its governing board by stripping much of its public financing.

On Monday, Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, the sponsor, argued the bill to take over airport appointments would not have any negative impacts because it will not change any other operations or governing rules.

"This is simply allowing appointments through representatives of the state," Garrett said. "The reason is because the state funds the airport."

He said since the governing entity remains the same, this bill is not like the cases in other cities.

The airport receives about 9% of its capital revenue from state grants, said House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville. Nashville supports the airport in emergencies, but BNA is mostly privately funded and has its own police and fire departments.

Rep. Yusuf Hakkeem, D-Chattanooga, criticized the targeted attacks on Nashville and questioned whether they would spread to other cities.

"Big government taking over local control? Where does it end?," Hakkeem said. "Does it stop in Nashville or does it go to other metropolitan areas. I don't see the benefit."

Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza.

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