A golf cart exits the giant hangar at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, where the staff is dealing with abandoned jets and equipment left behind when Elite Airways left. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night against a new framework for the airport board that would make pilots non-voting members, one night after officials in Auburn supported the proposal.

The amended board makeup, approved unanimously in Auburn on Monday, would include two staff members each from the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, the executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, a city councilor from each city, and two non-voting airport users.

The Lewiston council voted it down after several current and former airport users and board members spoke out against the changes, sending the proposal back to the drawing board. Proposed changes to the board have been controversial as the airport faces significant issues and there have been a range of opinions on the best path forward.

The original changes proposed, outlined last month, would have downsized the board membership from nine to five, removing three resident members and making the board makeup feature exclusively city staff. However, the proposal was tabled by both cities in response to concern from pilots and others over removing board members with aviation knowledge.

A council memo said the two representatives, appointed by the seven other members of the board, “shall be users of the airport with aviation knowledge and experience and who shall serve in an ‘ex-officio,’ non-voting capacity.”

Several pilots said the current board is the best the two cities have had in some time, and that the airport has previously thrived with a pilot as board chairman.

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Jim Platz, an experienced pilot and longtime airport tenant, said Tuesday that making pilots non-voting members would “diminish their effectiveness” on the board at a time when they are needed.

Ken Wolf, a pilot who chaired the board in the 1970s, said the problem isn’t the current board. He pointed to recent mismanagement, and issues like the need to find a fixed base operator to run the airport.

“Right now the place is dead,” he said. “Management in the past has been poor. Get a good FBO to create a flight school, put on events, and put some life into it and it will get better. Changing the composition of the board will do nothing.”

Councilor Bob McCarthy, who serves on the airport board, said that a year ago, he might have voted in favor of the changes, but said, “At this point in time, I think we have the best board we’ve had in quite a while.”

Marc Blais, a pilot and board member who has been outspoken against the proposal in both cities, said the board has begun to resolve issues at the airport that have come to light over the past few months. He said Jonathan LaBonte, the current board chairman and transportation systems director for Auburn, is “doing great job,” but believes the proposed board changes were “initiated by the mayor and city administration.”

Ron Russell, another pilot, said he believes it “appears to be a power grab by (Auburn).”

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Mayor Carl Sheline urged the council to vote it down, saying he had real concerns for the proposal.

Lewiston Councilor Lee Clement acknowledged there are problems at the airport, but believes “this will only make it worse.”

Following the vote, Councilor Rick LaChapelle urged the cities and the current board to continue talks.

“I don’t want to just vote and forget about it,” he said. “We have issues we have to address.”

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