When Gary LeTellier, the executive director of Augusta Regional Airport, went before the public services committee this week to ask commissioners to allow the mayor to expedite the approval of FAA grants, he didn’t think he was going to have to fight for federal funding.
But it seems an old grudge might be rearing its ugly head.
LeTellier went before the committee to explain that, when the FAA offers certain grants, there can be a quick deadline involved when accepting those grants.
A deadline that can’t necessarily wait for the Augusta Commission’s approval.
Therefore, he asked that the committee consider giving the mayor the authority to execute any future FAA grants in fiscal year 2014 that have already received the approval of the Augusta Aviation Commission.
“If there is a last-minute grant that is tenured to us that we can’t get scheduled before this commission in a timely fashion, we would like to be able to have the mayor sign it up to $2.5 million and then process it to this commission afterwards,” LeTellier told the committee.
Even though Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith was not on the public services committee, he still had some questions for the airport director.
“What you are asking us to do is give you carte blanche to do something and then us approve it afterwards,” Smith said to LeTellier.
LeTellier, who has been down this argumentative path before with Smith, tried to answer the commissioner’s question as calmly as possible.
“It would be approved by our commission and then come to the mayor in those cases that we couldn’t get to you in time,” he said. “It wouldn’t be me personally.”
Smith still didn’t let LeTellier off the hook.
“But you are asking for approval for something that has not occurred yet,” Smith said.
Again, LeTellier tried to explain his position, stating that the airport did miss out on a federal grant last year because it couldn’t get the Augusta Commission’s approval on time.
“The Feds get down to the last minute and offer a grant to someone and if they can take it, fine, if they can’t, it disappears,” LeTellier explained.
Despite the second explanation, Smith didn’t back off.
“There is no current grant that we are authorizing here,” Smith reiterated. “This is to just go forward in the future.”
LeTellier agreed that Smith was correct.
What is going on with these two?
In November, tensions erupted between Smith and LeTellier during a debate over the authority of Augusta Fire Department at the airport.
For almost a year, there has been a battle brewing over who is the official “incident commander” in the case of a fire at the airport: Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James or Augusta Regional Airport Fire Chief Willie Paulk.
Smith told the commission that he had been working for months to help resolve the situation, but it had gone nowhere.
“Ever since day one, when I got sworn in up here, I have been trying to get this done,” Smith told the commission in November. “Now, 11 months into my term, I have been fed up with this. I don’t want the public at risk.”
LeTellier agreed that the situation needed to be resolved, but he insisted it was unfair to characterize the airport as the “obstructionist.”
“I do think we can to fix this, but it isn’t going to get fixed by pointing fingers and calling names,” LeTellier said in November. “And Commissioner Smith, just so you know, I deeply resent your approach. I do.”
These two gentlemen certainly aren’t fans of one another.
Maybe it is time for the two of them to set their differences aside and consider the greater good, as in the city of Augusta.