Monday, May 3, 2004

Lunken chief pushes new service


City looks into e-mail maneuvers

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EAST END - The manager of Lunken Airport has been aggressively seeking scheduled commercial service for months, according to recent e-mails he wrote, including one that says he is "going to kick (the) ass" of a Cincinnati city councilman who proposed banning such service.

Manager Dan Dickten's e-mails have surfaced as the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to issue certification for the airport that would prevent such scheduled flights, a ban that Councilman John Cranley has pushed for as City Council considers the airport's future.

Last year, council passed a resolution banning any major changes at the airport until a study of Lunken is complete.

Council passed a "guiding principles" plan for Lunken's master plan that's in the works. The principles steer the master plan committee away from allowing scheduled commercial flights and toward addressing east-side residents' noise concerns.

After Dickten's e-mails came to light Friday, the city launched an investigation. The Enquirer obtained them via a public records request.

When asked Friday night about the e-mails, Dickten declined to comment.

Cranley called the e-mails "unbelievable" and said Dickten is a "loose cannon."

"He is trying to make it impossible for us to ban commercial service," Cranley said. "In my three years on council, I haven't seen anything this insubordinate. He is ignoring council policy to limit commercial service.

"He is supposed to be the neutral dispenser of information. Council is going to have to take control of this process because everyone involved has depended on the facts Dickten is providing are accurate and unbiased. These e-mails demonstrate that to be completely false."

But now, in light of Dickten's e-mails, including some written to companies that either can or hope to offer commercial service at Lunken, Cranley and some east side neighbors say the process of determining Lunken's future is broken.

In one e-mail sent April 19 to David Cimo, president of JetLink Express Inc. of Chicago, about Cranley's proposal to ban commercial service at Lunken, Dickten wrote: "This guy is actually trying to ban all scheduled service into LUK (the airport designation for Lunken). ... I am going to kick his ass."

In an e-mail the next day to Cimo, Dickten encourages him to contact Councilman David Crowley over Cranley's proposed ban of commercial service at Lunken, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

"Act really put out with what Cranley is proposing," Dickten wrote. "Let (the Enquirer) know how many Cincinnatians want an alternative at LUK. It will help (Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport), not work against it, by attracting the east siders traveling to Dayton back into the Cincinnati area for air travel."

On Friday morning, Cranley went to City Manager Valerie Lemmie after learning of some of the e-mails. That afternoon, more of Dickten's e-mails were pulled for review, and Lemmie sent a brief e-mail about the development to Mayor Charlie Luken, City Council and city officials.

"A council member has brought to my attention inappropriate e-mails sent by a city employee regarding personal views on Lunken Airport and related matters that may be in conflict with council policy," Lemmie's e-mail reads.

"We are investigating this matter to determine if any disciplinary action is warranted and are reviewing the e-mails in question and will provide an update and more specific details next week after a review of these e-mails has been completed."

At times, Cranley says, Dickten seems to contradict himself in advising the Lunken Airport Oversight Advisory Board, and in e-mails to Cimo.

In an April 20 e-mail to Cimo, Dickten warns him that "this Cranley character actually wrote a motion to ban ALL scheduled service at Lunken. Dave, if he gets the votes, the new Part 139 (FAA certification for Lunken) as written would support that."

Then, in an April 27 e-mail to advisory board member and Indian Hill Councilwoman Susan Krehbiel Holzapfel, Dickten contended Cranley's proposal violates grant assurances the airport has made to the FAA.

"It is an illegal motion," he wrote. "The FAA has made a preliminary ruling on this and will soon come out with the official and final ruling.

"If the city goes through with the motion and makes it an ordinance, we will be sued and loose our grant funding. ...Then city tax funds WILL be needed to maintain the airport. I expect Mr. Cranley's motion will be dropped like a hot potato once this gets released and to council."

In the same e-mail, Dickten maintains financial stability of the airport is dependent on commercial service. If Lunken has 10,000 passengers a year from scheduled commuter service, it automatically receives additional FAA funding, he wrote.

One airport user, Flamingo Air President David MacDonald, defended Dickten. After Cranley proposed banning commercial aircraft at Lunken, MacDonald applied for a permit to operate a small commuter service to Chicago.

"He is probably one of the most dynamic (airport managers) I have run into," MacDonald said, adding that he has been to airports all over the country and "frankly, none of them are run quite as nicely as Lunken Airport is. He is a good man... the city should be darned proud to have him."

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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