HARLINGEN — For nearly 15 years, the City Charter hasn’t addressed questions surrounding the removal of members from the board overseeing Valley International Airport.

Soon, voters might be deciding if they want to give city commissioners the power to remove members from the prominent airport board.

Earlier this week, the city commission’s new majority pushed through the first reading of an ordinance placing a proposition on the May 7 election ballot calling on voters to decide if they want to give commissioners the authority to remove airport board members without cause.

Meanwhile, Mayor Chris Boswell argued the proposal would inject “politics” into board removals.

During a meeting, interim City Attorney Mark Sossi told commissioners the City Charter didn’t address the removal of airport board members, whom the city’s constitution gives the mayor the sole authority to appoint.

“This is a policy decision that should have been made a long time ago by, frankly, the individuals who wrote the Charter or enacted the ordinances in place,” Sossi told commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting.

Now, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Uribe wants commissioners empowered to remove airport board members, proposing a simple majority have the authority to oust members without cause.

“This is not unusual, in that members of volunteer boards frequently serve at the pleasure of the city commission,” Sossi told commissioners.

Along with parts of the City Charter, commissioners also want to amend a conflicting 2006 ordinance addressing airport board members’ terms in office.

“Anything that’s in conflict with our Charter, any Charter changes, should go to the voters,” Uribe said during the meeting.

While the Charter sets the lengths of the airport board members’ terms at three years, the ordinance calls for five-year terms.

“You have a conflict between your Charter and your ordinance,” Sossi told commissioners.

Meanwhile, Uribe said he wants to limit board members’ tenures.

“I also want to make sure it’s clear we don’t have any members serving 12, 15, 20 years on a board,” he said.

Farris, Consiglio strongly deny conflicts of interest

During the meeting, Boswell argued commissioners are planning to remove members from the airport board.

“This is all being done in an effort to get to the point where the commission can remove an airport board member,” he told commissioners. “That’s obviously the purpose of it.”

In September, Commissioner Frank Puente said commissioners were considering removing airport board members Bobby Farris and Nick Consiglio as a result of concerns stemming from their employment at Texas Regional Bank because Chairman Michael Scaief serves on the board of Sun Valley Aviation, an airport tenant.

At the bank, Farris, a former city commissioner, serves as vice president while Consiglio, a city Planning and Zoning Commission member, works as marketing director.

On Friday, Farris strongly denied any conflict of interest, adding Scaief’s “not my boss.”

“There’s no conflict,” he said during an interview.

Farris said former City Attorney Ricardo Navarro told commissioners his employment and role on the airport board don’t constitute a conflict of interest.

“Even their own lawyer told them there’s no conflict,” Farris, whom Boswell appointed to the board in 2019, said. “They’re making it up. What these people are doing is trying to smear people and their reputation.”

Farris said his record shows he’s voted in support of Gulf Aviation, an airport tenant which offers services similar to those of Sun Valley Aviation, a tenant which filed a lawsuit against the airport, arguing it stopped the company from building a third hangar.

“My vote has shown that I’m not conflicted,” Farris stated. “When Gulf Aviation came to the board and asked to be let out of their north hanger because they cannot afford the rent, I voted to let them out of that lease. That vote did not help Sun Valley, but it did help Gulf. The second time I voted in favor of Gulf was when they were in bankruptcy and I voted to work with them to help them emerge from bankruptcy and be able to stay on the airport. That vote helped Gulf but it didn’t help Sun Valley.”

In September, Consiglio, who also said Scaief wasn’t his boss, stated his employment and his role on the airport board constitute “zero conflict, perceived or otherwise.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Boswell warned against injecting “politics” into the removal of board members serving the Rio Grande Valley’s biggest airport.

“The whole idea with the airport board was to remove politics from the airport board,” he told commissioners. “The airport board is such an important economic driver for the city. There’s basically great management at the airport. We don’t need to be monkeying with the airport board members. The idea that the mayor would appoint all the airport board members and the commission can’t remove airport board members was to try to remove politics from the airport, allow it to operate as a business. This is messing around with a great institution and we just don’t need to be doing it.”

Boswell said commissioners’ removal of airport board members could make residents leery of serving on the board.

“All of these people are volunteers,” he told commissioners. “We ask these people to step up and take on these responsibilities. They don’t get paid. They’re giving of their time. It’s a pretty harsh concept to remove any volunteer from any board and if you pass these things it’s going to chill people from wanting to serve on boards if they know, ‘Next time there’s an election, I may get thrown off the board. I don’t want to go through that kind of humiliation because somebody got elected that doesn’t like me.’ It’s going to deter people from wanting to volunteer to serve on the many boards that we have.”

Board appointments on the ballot

For months, the commission’s new majority has also questioned the way airport board members are appointed.

In July, commissioners voted to place a proposition on the May 7 election ballot calling on voters to decide if they want to revise the City Charter to change the way appointments are made to the board.

For about 15 years, the charter has given the mayor sole authority to appoint the nine-member board.

Now, commissioners want voters to decide if they want to allow commissioners, along with the mayor, to appoint board members.

On the ballot’s proposition, commissioners are proposing a seven-member board, with commissioners appointing five members while the mayor appoints two.

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