It’s either a sign of fantastic governance or an alarm bell – take your pick – but the fact is this: The Piedmont Triad Airport Authority is always in complete agreement on every issue that comes before it.
It has been that way for years and years and, when the Rhino Times, after noticing that fact, recently asked airport officials when the last time any vote of that board had not been unanimous, no one could remember there ever being a decision that had included even one dissenting vote.
All around the county – and around the country – boards and other governing bodies like the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Greensboro City Council have major disagreements and split votes day in and day out – however, as far as anyone can recall, there hasn’t been a dissenting vote on the seven-member Airport Authority in perhaps a decade or so – if then.
The board, which ultimately runs and oversees all actions taken at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA), has a great deal of power and responsibility.
When the Rhino Times asked PTIA Executive Director Kevin Baker the last “No” vote that he recalled from a board member serving on the Authority, he said it had been “Years.”
“I can’t remember,” Baker said. “I recall a 6-1 vote, and I want to say it was [Forsyth County Commissioner] Gloria Whisenhunt who was the ‘nay’ on some vote – but even that recollection might be wrong.”
He added that it may have happened under previous PTIA Executive Director Ted Johnson, who stepped down from that job in 2010 before Baker took his place.
“I can’t remember if I was even running things at that point, or if Ted was still here,” Baker said of the one time there may have been a no vote.
Undoubtedly, at some point in the history of the Airport Authority, there has been a dissenting vote on something – however, it was a very long time ago and in recent years the board has been in complete agreement on everything.
Last month, when the airport’s board was electing its officers for the coming year, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines cast a no vote against one candidate, and that caused audible gasps and stunned silence – until Joines told everyone that he was just kidding, at which point the room filled with the laughter of relief.
Sometimes citizens worry when boards always agree on everything because it can mean there’s a lack of diversity of opinion among members or an insufficient amount of healthy skepticism regarding staff moves; however, board members now serving on the Airport Authority say that’s not the case here.
Former High Point Mayor Bill Bencini, who serves on the Airport Authority, said he can’t remember a no vote ever being cast, but he added that there’s a very positive reason for that. Bencini said Baker is so thorough and meticulous when he brings items to the board for approval – and Baker has communicated the reasons for the move so effectively – that any concerns are addressed in the vetting process long before the vote.
“It’s a testimonial to Kevin and his staff,” Bencini said of the unanimity. “If they don’t have a good reason for doing it, then they don’t bring it to the board.”
Bencini said the unanimous votes are also due to the fact that Baker, before making proposals, has always thoroughly communicated those plans as well as the reasons behind them to the Authority members.
“Kevin is a great communicator,” Bencini said. “I think the slam dunk votes are because of that.”
He also said moves presented to the board have been wise ones that have been very well explained, and if they are unwise, staff does not bring them.
“I call that good leadership,” Bencini said.
When Baker was told that his wisdom and communication practices were Bencini’s explanation for the unanimous votes, Baker responded. “I’ve never been accused of being wise!”
On a more serious note, Baker said that, before something is brought to the board for a vote, it is in fact examined very closely.
“Most of the time, our action items are things that are vitally necessary to operate, grow and maintain the airport, and are without controversy,” he said.
While that may be true most of the time, it’s not true of all the motions that make it to the board. In one famous counterexample, just before Christmas of 2017, the Airport Authority unanimously approved one of the most controversial decisions ever made by any board in Guilford County: It voted to change the name of Piedmont Triad International Airport to Central North Carolina International Airport with exactly zero public discussion on the very important matter.
That move, however, appears to have originated not from Baker or his staff but instead from movers and shakers in the region’s economic development community.
The Airport Authority later – unanimously, of course – reversed that decision. That move came after a tremendous amount of public outcry from citizens and elected leaders alike.