TUPELO - When the Tupelo Airport Authority meets tonight, it will have one less member.
Carlyle "Smitty" Harris confirmed over the weekend that he had resigned from the authority, which oversees the operations of the Tupelo Regional Airport.
Last week, in the midst of news that airport Executive Director Terry Anderson's job may be in jeopardy, Harris declined to confirm reports that he had stepped down.
However, in a letter sent this weekend to Mayor Jack Reed Jr., Anderson and the media, Harris said he resigned "as a matter of conscience."
"Now that I have determined that Mayor Jack Reed Jr. has received my letter of resignation from the Tupelo Airport Authority, I confirm that I am no longer a member of that body," he wrote.
Harris' resignation took effect immediately, which leaves the authority with four members.
"I can no longer support a group which I believe has acted in a manner that is not in the best interests of Tupelo, Northeast Mississippi and certainly not in the best interests of the most productive, dedicated and effective airport director and leader in southeast America," Harris continued.
Airport Authority Chairman Dan Kellum declined to respond to Harris' remarks. However, he said, "I do want to say I have the utmost respect and admiration for Smitty."
The other authority members are Jim Frerer, Bo Gibens and Glenn McCullough.
Reed said he is in no hurry to find a replacement for Harris.
"I think the citizens prefer a wise decision, rather than a hasty one," Reed said in an e-mail. "I do not feel pressured to offer that appointment immediately. I'm sure we will find an excellent new member."
While the mayor can nominate airport authority members, the City Council must confirm them.
The airport director reports directly to the airport authority. Like the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Coliseum Commission, the authority has its own budget and operates a little outside of the city's control, even though it is established as a subset of the city government.
"When the airport authority was created under state statutes, it was given the right to hire its own director," Reed said. "The purpose was to take that decision out of the political arena; to allow the authority to search for and hire the best possible candidates to run an airport - regardless of that person's political connections. I think that was a wise decision. I respect that wall of separation."
Served two terms
Harris had been a member of the airport authority since June 2007. His appointment by former Mayor Ed Neelly was his second stint on the authority, having served from September 1985 to November 1988.
He has been a vocal supporter of Anderson, as well as efforts to expand the airport, including extending the runway.
He also led a road committee that looked into the controversial plan to reroute West Jackson Street Extended, and was the only authority member to vote against a review the project that he felt would result in a delay and lost funding.
With the authority reportedly pondering Anderson's job, Harris apparently has had enough.
"Terry Anderson's departure will do great harm to the knowledge and experience necessary to be an effective executive director of Tupelo Regional Airport," Harris concluded in his letter.
Board members have declined to talk about Anderson's job status, but they will meet in a regularly scheduled monthly meeting tonight.
Anderson has hired Tupelo attorney Jim Waide to represent him. Waide said the authority has no legal reason to fire his client, who plans to fight for his job.
And on Monday, Harris said he had nothing more to add.
"I really don't want to say anything else about the decision or about any other reasons," he said.
Reed said in a written statement that he will continue to work for the best interests of the airport, no matter what goes on behind the scenes.
"I have spent hundreds of hours since elected working on the issues of our Essential Air Service and the runway extension project," he said. "I will continue to work hard in my role. I will continue to work with the City Council and with the airport authority and with the airport director. I will continue to keep the citizens informed as we progress."
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal