Great Plains Airlines: February 2005 Archives

Busby bombshell

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From tonight's City Council meeting: Tulsa City Councilor Roscoe Turner just announced that airport investigator Wilson Busby today submitted his resignation. There has been some concern about the appearance that the investigation is compromised by Busby's connections with Jim Burdge, the political consultant who is running the recall and who has run Councilor Bill Christiansen's campaigns. Councilor Turner himself, who was also a client of Burdge, said he also considered resigning as chairman of the investigation, and that he believes it is time for a grand jury investigation.

I am told that by people I trust that people they trust say Wilson Busby is an honorable man, and I have no reason to doubt that. But there are reports that Busby has gone beyond investigation and has been negotiating deals with various airport stakeholders. There are also concerns that there have been no tangible results from the investigation since the November election.

This happened in the course of an item put on the agenda by non-Councilor Randy Sullivan. Sullivan proposed a council consensus calling for confidentiality in this and future council investigations. Councilor Chris Medlock agreed with the need for confidentiality, but challenged Sullivan to specify what breach of confidentiality prompted his proposed consensus. Sullivan declined, revealing that his motivation for raising the issue was political.

A reader calls my attention to an odd situation: The Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust (TAIT) has authorized $100,000 to pay the Pray Walker law firm to defend it in the lawsuit filed against TAIT by the Tulsa Industrial Authority (TIA) over the convoluted land deal designed to fund Great Plains Airlines. But it doesn't appear that Pray Walker has done anything in the case -- it hasn't even filed an appearance on behalf of its client or an answer to the claims of the plaintiff. Another very strange aspect of a very convoluted and fishy situation.

How convoluted was the land deal? As it was explained to me, the City, TIA, and TAIT all exceeded their authority in the way the deal was structured. They would have gotten away with it if Great Plains had succeeded, but it went belly-up with $7 million due on a loan from the Bank of Oklahoma, a loan that was backed by 30 acres of Air Force Plant No. 3, a facility with surrounding land that was transferred from the City to TIA. TAIT promised TIA that if Great Plains defaulted, TAIT would buy the 30 acres for whatever amount was still owed on the loan (no independent assessment was sought to determine if the price was fair), and TAIT intended to pay for the land by asking the FAA for an increase in passenger facility charges, under the guise that the 30 acres was being acquired for future runway expansion. The FAA saw through the whole thing (Acrobat Reader required), denied the request, and said you can't use passenger facility charges to subsidize an airline. The attorney who structured the deal and advised both parties, J. Richard Studenny, was finally sacked and is a defendant in TIA's suit.

Great Plains was a bad deal set up by Tulsa's politically connected, including the Tulsa World, which owned a significant amount of stock in the airline, but didn't disclose the fact at the time it was editorializing to urge Tulsa's City Council to put a city asset up as collateral for a loan to the airline.

For those of you just beginning to learn about Tulsa politics as background to the Tulsa World's legal threats against BatesLine, Tulsa Today published an analysis piece a few weeks ago that ties it all together -- the Great Plains Airlines deal, the way the Chamber of Commerce handles economic development funds, the development lobby, the effort to recall two Tulsa city councilors, and the Tulsa World's hostility to conservative Republican officials who seek to implement the principles they ran on.

You can read more in my archive of entries about Great Plains Airlines and other aspects of the mess at Tulsa's city-owned airports.

The Tulsa Beacon has a front page story this week with details of the reply from the FAA to the City of Tulsa about discriminatory practices at Jones Riverside Airport. The FAA believes that allegations of discrimination are well founded -- allegations that Councilor Bill Christiansen, who owns an FBO at the airport, has used his public office and connections with a member of the Tulsa Airport Authority to get special treatment with regard to leases and access and to implement airport rules that discriminate against his only competitor. Mayor Bill LaFortune has until March 14th to respond -- with action, not just promises -- or Tulsa may lose federal airport funds.

FAA to cut Tulsa off?


Nothing official yet, but I am hearing that the Federal Aviation Administration is mightily displeased with the City of Tulsa's response to the FAA's questions about charges of discriminatory rules and practices at Jones Riverside Airport designed to favor fixed-base operator Christiansen Aviation over its competitor, Roadhouse Aviation. Christiansen Aviation is owned by Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen, who has the support of and generally votes as a member of the Cockroach Caucus. The buzz around at City Hall is that the FAA is so displeased with the inadequacy of the city's response that Tulsa has been threatened with a cut-off of certain federal airport funds, and that the FAA believes that airport rules have been enforced in a discriminatory fashion in order to favor Councilor Christiansen's business.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Great Plains Airlines category from February 2005.

Great Plains Airlines: January 2005 is the previous archive.

Great Plains Airlines: March 2005 is the next archive.

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