Koury Corp. President Steve Showfety is going to get a fourth three-year term on the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority – the seven-member authority that calls all the shots for the airport.
According to sources on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, there are now more than enough votes to allow Showfety to continue serving on the authority that he’s been on for nine years and has chaired since April 2014.
Behind the scenes, the Guilford County commissioners have been debating the question for months – one they were originally scheduled to address at their Thursday, March 15 meeting and now plan to decide at their Thursday, April 5 meeting.
The Airport Authority, which oversees and orchestrates airport operations and has the final say over the roughly $30 million budget each year, is a high-profile board that many citizens want to serve on. Guilford County has had a policy for decades that states service on county boards and commissions should be limited to two consecutive terms. Showfety’s third term expires in April, which is why some county commissioners think it’s time to name someone else to the coveted seat. Despite that opposition, Showfety now seems to have a lock on reappointment for a new term that will last until April 2021.
The vote for Showfety is expected to be bipartisan with Democratic Commissioner Kay Cashion voting along with the five Republicans on the nine-member board to reappoint Showfety. Sometimes, with board appointments and reappointments, once commissioners in the minority see the writing on the wall and know that an appointment will be approved, the rest of the commissioners fall in line in a unanimous vote for that applicant. However, the vote to reappoint Showfety isn’t expected to be unanimous.
The decision is an especially significant one since Showfety is the four-year chairman of the authority and has been the driving force behind a recent effort to change the name of Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA). Six days before Christmas last year, the Airport Authority – without running it by the Guilford County commissioners or virtually anyone else outside of the economic development community – voted to, as of Jan. 1, 2018, change the airport’s name to Central North Carolina International Airport. After a very negative and widespread response from the community, the authority, three weeks into 2018, voted to put that change on hold, take input from the public and explore other names.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said that, while he expects Showfety to be reappointed, the out of the blue airport name change did ruffle some commissioners’ feathers. He said some on the board, including himself, were taken aback to find out suddenly in December that the Showfety-led Airport Authority was changing the name of a key community resource to a new name, one many citizens didn’t like no less.
“I don’t think that helped him,” Branson said of the move.
Commissioners backing Showfety’s reappointment emphasize that there’s a lot going on at the airport right now and that it’s not a good time to change leadership on that board. The Airport Authority selects its chairman each April and many expect Showfety to continue as chairman of that authority once he’s reappointed.
At PTIA, HAECO Americas has just opened a new giant fifth hanger, and work crews at the airport are in the home stretch of an 800-acre megasite with runway access that area leaders hope will be a huge driver of economic development in the region. PTIA is also repaving runways, constructing a replacement weather tower for an aging one, renovating terminals and embarking on other initiatives.
Sources say Showfety has a very strong desire to continue to serve on the authority and that he’s made that clear to commissioners.
In January, Showfety submitted his application for consideration for reappointment, and he stated on the application that he wanted another term to finish some of the continuing projects now underway at PTIA. In his application, he stated he felt that things were moving in the right direction. Showfety wrote that airline deregulation, NAFTA and the 2007 recession had hurt this region’s core industries, which in turn negatively affected the airport. He stated that, in recent years, the authority has been working very hard on two fronts: Improving the passenger experience and helping the airport become a major draw for aviation related jobs.
“Significant progress is being made on both strategies,” Showfety stated in his application. “In order to maintain consistency of these strategies while closely managing the financial operations of the Authority, I would appreciate the opportunity to serve an additional term.”
Former Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw, who now serves on the Airport Authority, said Showfety has been a very positive force in the airport’s transformation.
“We need Steve back really, really badly,” Shaw said. “Steve has taken us in the right direction.”
Even some who agree that Showfety has done great work on the authority believe its time for new blood in that seat. Commissioner Skip Alston said he wouldn’t be voting to reappoint Showfety, but he added that that’s no reflection on Showfety or his performance.
“Steve is a personal friend of mine and he’s done an excellent job,” Alston said. “But out of fairness I can’t vote for him again.”
Alston said seats on the Airport Authority are highly prized. He knows others who want to serve on it and the county has a policy that limits people to two terms.
“This is not just for a third term, but for a fourth,” Alston said of the coming decision on Showfety.
He said the boards and commissions belong to the citizens and added that others should have an opportunity to serve.
“Stanley Frank was there 30 years – he didn’t want to get off,” Alston said of the prominent Greensboro businessman and philanthropist who served on the Airport Authority from 1972 to 1991. Before that, Caesar Cone served on the authority for almost three decades in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.
Alston said there are some low-profile county boards where it’s hard to get people to serve, and the commissioners in those cases have made exceptions to the two-term limit, but he added that the Airport Authority isn’t one of those boards.
Shaw said one reason Alston is opposed to Showfety’s reappointment is that Alston has his eye on Showfety’s seat. She said Alston has wanted to be named to the authority for some time now.
Alston said he has considered serving on the Airport Authority. He didn’t run for reelection as a county commissioner in 2012 and, after he left the Board of Commissioners, he said, he did have an interest in the position. He said that, though he presently isn’t seeking the seat, he did explore that possibility after the airport renaming controversy late last year because he believes the commissioners would be better informed about the authority’s activities if a commissioner were sitting on the board.
Some argue that elected officials shouldn’t serve on the Airport Authority since the idea is for that board to do what’s good for the airport, while elected officials have an obligation to their particular city or county.
“This name change thing changed that,” Alston said. “The county commissioners have three people on the authority and they did that without letting us know. Well, that bothered us.”
“There were no surprises when Walt Cockerham was on there,” Alston said of a former Republican Guilford County commissioner who served on the authority years ago.
Of the Airport Authority’s seven members, three are appointed by Guilford County, one by Forsyth County, one by Greensboro, one by High Point and one by Winston-Salem.
Shaw said a great thing about the authority has been that it’s completely non-political. She said that, though she thinks the world of Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, she didn’t like the fact that Winston-Salem used its vote to put Joines on the authority. She said she has a great deal of respect for Joines and likes him, but that doesn’t change the fact that the airport board shouldn’t have those currently serving in elected office.
“I appreciate Allen, I just feel elected leaders shouldn’t serve on it,” she said. “You get Skip on there and Allen on there, and someone from the Greensboro City Council, and then suddenly it’s political.”
The Airport Authority, which was originally called the “Greensboro-High Point Airport Authority,” was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1942 to own and operate the airport. It was re-named the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority in 1987.
In 1985, the number of seats on the authority expanded from five to seven, with the two new seats being appointed by the Winston-Salem City Council and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
Two authority members must be High Point residents – with one of those appointed by the High Point City Council and the other appointed by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. Two must be Greensboro residents, with one of those slots filled by the Greensboro City Council and the other by the Guilford County commissioners. Another member must be from “Guilford County at large.” That member is also appointed by the commissioners.
One member, appointed by the Winston-Salem City Council, must live in Winston-Salem. The other member is from Forsyth County at large, and is appointed by the Forsyth County commissioners.