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Airport board rescinds lease

By By JONATHAN CLAYBORNE, News Editor
The Warren Field Airport Commission members voted 5-0 Wednesday night to rescind an operations lease with the airport manager and negotiate a new lease on a corporate hangar by May 1.
If no agreement is reached on the new lease by the first of the month, the manager will be asked to vacate the corporate terminal, according to a motion made by Commissioner Patrick Nash.
The manager, or fixed base operator, "abandoned the lease," Nash said.
The motion scored a second from Commissioner Dick Nanney. Also voting for the motion were Commissioners Dorie Richter, Starlon Credle and Chairman Bryan Ross.
The commission directed its attorney, Fred Holscher, to draft a letter to Jerry Toms, who acted as FBO until recently.
The commission took the action after a roughly one-hour-long closed session called under the attorney-client privilege, one of a handful of narrow and specific exemptions allowing closed sessions under state law.
During that closed session, Toms consented to an interview, disputing earlier reports that he no longer was acting as the FBO and no longer responsible for day-to-day operations at the airport.
Toms confirmed that he had vacated the airport terminal, but said he had continued selling fuel, maintaining facilities and training pilots.
"It's just that somebody interfered with it," he said.
The commission, Beaufort County and the City of Washington claim Toms is "out of business," he said, referring to a report earlier this week. (The city and county jointly own the airport.)
Toms disagreed with that report and said he hadn't abandoned his lease. He said he continues to run his private business, East Carolina Helicopters, and still acts as FBO.
Toms provided a copy of a notice he said he placed on the door of the terminal on March 1.
"We will continue a variety of FBO services including flight training and airplanes and helicopters, aircraft rental, and fuel," the notice says, providing a number to call for fuel requests.
In a conflicting report, Ross said the commission itself has taken over fuel sales – the main source of revenue at the airport – and is awaiting the arrival of a credit card machine to handle payments.
The commissioners are taking turns running the terminal, he said. The commission hopes to hire more employees to staff the airport, Ross said.
"We're just keeping things going," he said, "and I'm here most of the day."
Ross said he and Nanney met to discuss the FBO matter on Tuesday with Earl Tetterton, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners; Washington Mayor Stewart Rumley; County Manager Don Davenport; and City Manager R.L. Willoughby.
"And we worked out something with them," Ross said, declining to elaborate.
Tetterton has said publicly that he'd like to see conflicts with Toms and the commission worked out. Tetterton has met at least twice with commission members to talk about the FBO issue and also has talked to Toms.
The conflicts came to light after Toms alleged the commission was charging him unreasonable rent on a hangar when compared with rent charged to other, longtime renters at the airport.
Toms filed a complaint with the N.C. Department of Transportation's Division of Aviation, which later cleared the commission of any wrongdoing.
Releasing word of the DOA's report, commission officials said Toms owed rent on a hangar. The city pegged the amount at $9,450.
Ross wouldn't comment on the rent Wednesday, but he did say the commission hasn't forgiven the reported debt.
Toms has claimed he isn't getting fair value for the building he uses in his private business and that certain unfulfilled promises not in his lease agreement were made when he signed on as FBO in 2000.
Commission officials have said Toms violated the terms of his lease, and county officials openly have discussed having city and county employees run the airport.
The DOA has basically said the commission can charge different rents as it sees fit and that disputes should be solved on the local level.
Toms says the appeals process is not over and that he has forwarded his concerns to the Federal Aviation Administration, which distributes airport funding to state governments.
FAA officials could not be reached immediately for comment.
Tommy Webster, a private pilot who now works in construction, attended Wednesday's meeting in the terminal along with 14 other area residents. Webster indicated he supports Toms.
"I don't know the commissioners that well," he said. "Jerry Toms is the finest fellow I've met at the airport in a long time."
Webster said he didn't feel the commission was "coming clean" and that he has discussed activities at the airport with Tetterton, county Commissioner Hood Richardson and members of the Beaufort County Committee of 100.
"I'm on a personal vendetta, I make no bones about it," he said.
Also during the meeting, the commission:
Jonathan Clayborne may be reached by telephone at 940-4213 or via e-mail at jonathan@wdnweb.com.