Tulsa Airport settlement talks off

Thursday, November 10th 2005, 10:26 am
By: News On 6

A debt owed over the failure of Great Plains Airlines might be paid by the city of Tulsa, but a tentative deal is off for now.

The mayor and council backed out of a negotiation to repay $7-million, but meanwhile some taxpayers say they're going to make sure the city doesn't pay up.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says when Great Plains Airlines went bankrupt, it left Bank of Oklahoma with a $7-million loan and no one to pay it, except, maybe, the taxpayers of Tulsa.

The idea from the mayor to pay off BOK's bad loan led to objections from city councilors who would have to sign off on the deal. Tulsa city councilor Jim Mautino: "So you have to look at this and determine who was at fault? I can't determine that, but some it rests with Bank of Oklahoma."

Within a day, Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune changed positions – saying “I will not support a settlement of the lawsuit at this time. I am concerned about the potential bankruptcy of the airport, and the resulting disruption of air traffic.”

The mayor's statement came after the city attorney advised: "it is likely the agreement (BOK's claim against the airport) is not enforceable." That agreement would have repaid Great Plain's debt with city funds, protected city officials from personal financial liability by required BOK to return money if taxpayers filed suit over the agreement. It did not protect the politicians from criminal charges or a recall over the deal.

Larry Wilson with Citizens for Fair and Clean Government: "Great Plains Airlines and the expenditure of taxpayer funds on a failed airline is an example of what they've done to us." That was part of the reason Citizens for Fair & Clean Government gave notice Thursday it intends to file a taxpayer’s suit against the city. “Cease and desist on any payments to any entities from taxpayer funds."

The threat of one of these taxpayer lawsuits was a big part of the attorney's warning to mayor not to go ahead with the deal.

If things go as the city attorney suggests, the courts will decide if the city is on the hook for the money.