JACKSON, Miss. —The day after 16 WAPT broke the story, Gov. Phil Bryant responded to city leaders who said he and the state are conspiring to take over the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.
“This is an executive level conversation that is happening at the executive levels of government in the state of Mississippi,” Mayor Tony Yarber said.
The mayor called the governor out Tuesday, claiming that Bryant is making a move to take over the airport.
“We look forward to having discussions to revitalize the Jackson Municipal Airport and to increase its air service,” Bryant said.
He would did not address the mayor’s conspiracy accusation.
The airport and buildings on-site are owned by the city of Jackson, and that has been the case since the facility opened in the early 1960s, but critics claim that since it is bordered by so many other cities and counties that others should have a say in what happens there.
The airport has been criticized for a reduction in flights and the loss of high-profile air carriers, like Southwest. Longtime airport director Dirk Vanderleest retired last year.
“As long as Dirk Vanderleest was there, we never had this conversation,” City Councilman Kenneth Stokes said Tuesday. “As soon as Dirk Vanderleest is gone and you put a black man there, they come in and the state is going to take it over.”
“I’m offended that he would accuse me of that,” State Sen. Josh Harkins, of Rankin County, said in response. “Race has no place in this.”
Harkins is authoring the airport board takeover bill. Harkins said he’s not trying to take away Jackson’s property, just change the makeup of the board from one that is solely appointed by the Jackson mayor to one appointed by the governor with members from three metro counties.
“I think to just ignore it and let it sit there, I think if you ask citizens in central Mississippi if they are happy with the service of the airport, they may not be, but at the end of the day, what are we going to do about it?” Harkins said.
Rep. Earl Banks and Sen. Hillman Frazier, both of Jackson, are opposed to the proposal.
“So, how can you get a bunch of political thugs that have been elected, to come in and say, ‘We’re going to take it.’ That’s theft,” Banks said.
“Is there a reason we need to change the rules when the airport has been successful and moving forward?” Frazier asked.
The measure will land on state lawmakers’ desks after they return to work next week.