It’s no secret Kings County council will meet May 20 with representatives from Michelin. What could remain a secret from citizens and users of the municipal airport in Waterville is what exactly councillors and company executives discussed in the closed-door meeting.
The county’s chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan said council’s meeting with Michelin falls under the purposes stipulated by the Municipal Government Act for in camera sessions - either as land negotiations or contract negotiations.
If so, we can’t argue against the county’s right to hold the private session.
Warden Diana Brothers said May 6 there could be a motion coming out of the session. If this were the case, the MGA requires the motion be presented and voted on in open session.
If there is no vote after the meeting, we believe it is incumbent on the municipality to provide an update to the public on the nature of the conversation - even if some details have to be omitted to protect Michelin’s interests. Taxpayers and airport stakeholders have too much riding on this.
Kings County stands to enjoy economic benefits if Michelin expands its plant on the current airport property.
It would be foolish for council to throw away an established economic driver for the municipality, the airport, without standing to gain something greater. If an expansion by Michelin is imminent, all council’s decisions regarding the airport to this point make sense, including the one to close the facility and seek a new location.
However, if a substantial expansion by Michelin is not in the foreseeable future, the decision to close the airport doesn’t make sense. Without a guaranteed expansion, the recent decisions only make sense if the county wants conditions for growth by Michelin at some point down the road to be as favourable as possible.
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If this is the reality – and an expansion isn’t expected soon - citizens will hold councillors accountable for the loss of a tangible economic asset, the Waterville airport. We agree with stakeholders that if the current airport closes before plans for a new location are announced, it is highly unlikely that any of the businesses or hangar owners would return to Kings County in the future.
One issue muddying the waters of public transparency and accountability is the legal action being taken against the municipality by a group of hangar owners. We understand why the hangar owners would pursue this avenue, but when a legal action against the municipality is in play, it provides council with another reason to take discussions behind closed doors.
One thing is for certain: even though council has voted to close the airport, stakeholders haven’t given up. For example, the Annapolis Valley Flying Association is holding an open house at the airport on May 31. One reason is to rally public support behind the facility. Association spokeswoman Nancy Sweeney said the group has four months left and she is doing what she can to “fight for the airport and keep it open.”
Read more coverage of the municipal airport issue here.