Miss. coast airport authority wants change in open meetings law

Published 4:52 pm Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Officials with the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport want a change in Mississippi’s Open Meetings Law to keep secret airport authorities’ talks with business prospects.

The bill, which has been passed by the House and sent to the Senate, would permit members of airport authorities to meet with airlines, cargo lines and other commercial prospects without a public meeting. The proposal also would exempt such meetings held outside Mississippi.

Lawmakers have provided similar exemptions to the Open Meetings Law, primarily involving meetings in which trade secrets might be discussed.

Bruce Frallic, executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, said the authority needs the freedom to recruit prospects in other cities and states. Because the Open Meetings Act requires that public meetings be accessible, the commission is unable to meet in other locations.

The Gulfport-Biloxi authority has three commissioners, so two constitute a quorum. Frallic currently is able to take only one board member on business trips.

“You have to go to these people,” Frallic said about prospects. “They don’t come to you. That’s the reason we’ve gained so much new air service. When you go to them, they want to see the people. They want to talk not just to staff, they want to talk to commissioners.”

Henry Laird, an attorney for the Sun Herald newspaper and advocate of open government, said the exemption would be a bad idea.

“This is taking openness in government in Mississippi in the wrong direction. We should be decreasing the chance for secrecy in closed meetings rather than proliferating it.

“Where do we stop? If we allow one governmental entity to have a meeting out of state, imagine all the other governments that will want to do the same outside the view of their constituents,” Laird said.

The bill is House Bill 972.