Friday, October 15, 2010

Donoval: Senator should guide airport process

Authority and committee members see plan as unlikely

Express Staff Writer

When District 25 Republican state Senate candidate Jim Donoval first announced he wanted to be nominated to the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee, it was almost a throwaway line.

During the Pizza and Politics candidates' forum on Oct. 6, the candidates were asked what issue they would have the most impact on if elected. Democratic candidate Michelle Stennett and Constitution Party candidate Randy Patterson both responded by saying they would focus on education.

Donoval, on the other hand, said he wanted to bring in a design institute and work to "consolidate" the process for replacing Friedman Memorial Airport by being appointed to the Blaine County Airport Advisory Committee.

Donoval has since stated unequivocally that, if elected, he would seek to be appointed to the committee, likely as its chair.

"I should be appointed to that board in some fashion to make sure there is a regional perspective," Donoval said in an interview this week. "It needs a broader view of how the airport will affect everyone in the region."

As chair, Donoval said, a state senator would be able to represent all the interests of the stakeholders in the region, and that a neutral voice would be able to move the process along more swiftly.

But two obstacles stand in the way of Donoval's plan being realistic, say representatives from the airport organizations and the Legislature.

For Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, the main problem is time. Jaquet said she used to serve as an ex-officio member of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, but she said she had a hard time juggling her positions.

"I had a really hard time making those meetings," she said. "I don't think he'd have the time."

Stennett, the acting senator for District 25 earlier this year, said she isn't sure Donoval would be able to serve the district as senator and on the committee.

"If he does get elected as senator, it's very difficult to do both jobs, since they both take a lot of time," Stennett said.

Donoval, however, said he would have plenty of time to serve on the committee when the Legislature is not in session. He said he anticipates being in Boise from January to March and spending the rest of his time closer to home in Sun Valley.

"State senator is not meant to be a full-time position," he said. "You're supposed to be in your district, understanding your district and working on issues that are going on in your district."

Patterson said that even if a senator did have the time, perhaps that time could be better spent elsewhere.

"There's a lot of issues on the state level to deal with, and that's where they should focus their attention," he said.

Time management notwithstanding, the structure of the committee itself might prevent the eventual state senator from being appointed chair.

The committee currently has five members but only one vacancy, the position representing the general aviation community. Committee spokeswoman Vanessa Fry said it is seeking to nominate someone (to be chosen by the Blaine County Commission) for this position, and though the board already has a chair, the members share responsibilities.


"We try not to make one position more important than the others," Fry said.

Donoval's request to add an additional position for the state senator and to nominate that person as chair of the committee would require a restructuring of the appointment process, said committee member Len Harlig.

"It would require a completely different format," Harlig said.

Tom Bowman, Blaine County commissioner and chair of the Freidman Memorial Airport Authority, said restructuring is technically possible, but not likely.

"We'd have to reinstate the blue ribbon committee and redo all the work it took us about a year to do," he said.

Blaine County Commission Chair and airport authority member Larry Schoen said making an exception to appoint the state senator to the committee would not be constructive.

"I don't really see what would be the point of making a special exception for any committee member," he said.

Schoen said he would still be willing to discuss the process with Donoval, but that Donoval had not approached either him or Bowman.

Harlig said restructuring the committee for the sake of appointing the new state senator as chair would be inappropriate, and the committee would likely not respond positively.

"Most people would view that as an intrusion into local government and a step above his pay grade," he said.

Bowman said advice from state legislators can be helpful, but senators have limited roles.

"Many times I seek guidance from our elected officials, [but] I have never seen them inject themselves in our jurisdiction," he said.

Jaquet said the role of a state legislator is more of a facilitator. She and Stennett agreed that they were more than willing to help local governments when asked.

"I'd be happy to assist in any capacity," Stennett said. "But as senator, you let the county folks and the local folks do their work."

In addition, airport organization members say they are not sure Donoval has a grasp on the complexities of the airport issues, as he has not been attending meetings of either the airport authority or the fledgling advisory committee.

"If Mr. Donoval has so much enthusiasm, he should attend our meetings," Fry said. "So far as I know, he hasn't been there ... but that would be a great way for him to get involved."

Donoval said he hasn't been attending meetings for either organization or approached the chairs with his suggestion, saying such moves would be "presumptive." However, he said he has met with key players and is informed enough to contribute.

"I've followed every report," he said. "I've met with [County Administrator] Derek Voss, I've met with [former Ketchum Councilman] Charles Conn. I'm as filled in as a common citizen can be."

But at least one airport authority member doubts that Donoval, or any new state senator, would automatically be able to coordinate or accelerate the replacement airport process.

"If you're elected, all it means is that you ran a good campaign," Bowman said. "It doesn't imbue you with some special powers once you're elected."

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