Lanett publicly debates airport manager’s salary

Published 10:36 am Thursday, November 9, 2023

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LANETT — The Lanett mayor and council had a discussion on Monday about the salary of a city employee. Perhaps it might have been more appropriate to have taken place in an executive session, but near the end of Monday’s open session it came up over Richard Carter’s $85,000 annual salary as airport manager.

The discussion began after Mayor Jamie Heard said he didn’t like the way he was being treated by some members of the council.

“I’m an honest person and try to treat everyone the way I would like to be treated,” he said. “I don’t like to be accused of doing something wrong when I haven’t done anything wrong.”

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He added that this was all about Carter’s salary.

“I want someone to tell me what I did wrong,” he said. “He was approved for the position by the council, and his salary was approved in the budget. If I did something wrong, I want to know what it was.”

City Attorney Stanley Gray said the salary was with the recommendation for hire made by the council’s three-member Airport Committee, which is made up by Council Members Angelia Thomas, Tifton Dobbs and Ronnie Tucker.

“The Airport Committee discussed this and made a recommendation to the mayor and council,” Heard said. “I think we have already discussed what should have been discussed.”

Tucker said he doesn’t remember voting on the salary.

“I don’t have a problem with the salary,” he said. “I just have a problem in how it was approved.”

Dobbs said the problem with bringing it up is that it was setting a new precedent. The salary is based on what the council did in approving the hire and approving the city’s annual budget.

“We voted on the salary, and the person to fill the job,” he said.

Tucker then said the discussion shouldn’t be going on in an open session.

“I don’t think the mayor intended to do anything wrong,” Thomas said. “It’s something the committee needs to discuss, have an agreement and bring it to the full council. We need to do things the right way. This has nothing to do with Mr. Carter, the mayor or the committee. Let’s just stop pointing fingers.”

“This is in the budget,” the mayor said. “I’m the kind of person who speaks my mind. This is something that should have been agreed to before we voted on it. I don’t want this subject to be talked about in 20 different ways when we leave here. If you ever have a concern about something, pick up the phone and call me.”

Gray said he was open to talk to any member of the council any time on any issue.

Complicating the matter is a $10,000 clerical error that had to be corrected.

“There’s no ethical problem here,” Gray said.

“His salary is in the approved budget,” the mayor said.

“We need to have a come to Jesus agreement on what the salary should be,” Tucker said. “We need to be doing things the right way. We need to be done with this.”

Council Member Tony Malone said it was his understanding that the airport manager in Troup County is making around $50,000 a year.

Troup County Manager Eric Mosley clarified in a follow-up interview that the LaGrange Callaway Airport that the airport manager makes $68,000 a year. Mosley said the LaGrange airport also has two other full-time employees and one part-time.

“Richard is a one-man show,” he said. “He cuts the grass out there. If something is broken, it’s up to him to fix it. He has a lot more duties than being just the airport manager.”

Heard said he believes that Carter has been doing an excellent job since he’s been with the city.

“I think we are on the right track with the airport,” he said. “We are doing well for where we are with it right now. Some of the hangars have been refurbished, and there’s been some needed grading and paving out there this year. We are also selling aviation fuel at the airport.”

Carter was at the meeting last night. When contacted by The VT-N, he said it was rather awkward to have that going on in a meeting he was present at.

“I guess that’s just part of the job,” he said.

Carter remains upbeat about the progress being made in Lanett becoming a busy airport.

“There has been a lot of flying both in and out,” he said. “The weather has been gorgeous, and that will always generate more planes in the air. We are getting lots of positive comments online from pilots who have landed and taken off here. They are telling other pilots that they ought to check out Lanett.”

Carter commended the work that’s been done recently by Evergreen Erosion Control around the hangars.

“We will soon be finished with refurbishing the T-hangars,” he said. “They should be ready in about two weeks. We have 10 planes ready to be based there. The ground around it has been dug up, leveled out and paved over. It’s a nice, smooth surface now. The taxi lane has been reworked, and it’s in great shape. We are negotiating leases for our big box hangar, and there continues to be lots of interest in tie-down spaces for planes.”

There’s a good chance the city will be getting an FAA grant for a tank to store jet fuel. This would be big news for the city. Airports where business class jets can land and refuel will bring in more air traffic and generate some significant revenue for the city.

“You will see a big increase in planes and helicopters here once we start selling jet fuel,” Carter said. “We are doing okay right now with gas we are selling to the turboprop planes.”

Carter said the biggest plane that has landed so far in Lanett is a Falcon 900.

A French-built jet, the Dassault Falcon 900 is a corporate jet that some 66 feet in length with a wingspan of 63 feet five inches. It weights 45,000 pounds at takeoff and has a cruising speed of 590 miles per hour. It can carry 19 passengers.

Carter talked to the pilot who landed the plane.

“He told me it was a very smooth landing, and a very good landing surface,” he said.