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No complaints in 15 years, but commission to ask for proposals on county airport management

Mark Francis enumerates point-by-point the accomplishments of his 15 years managing airport operations.

By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

In a split vote Wednesday, the Carbon County Commission decided to call for competitive proposals for managing the county airport.

Commissioners Jae Potter and Casey Hopes stressed that the move is not a vote of no confidence in the management team headed by Mark Francis for the past 15 years. Both explained they wanted to request proposals to see what else is out there.

But their colleague John Jones strongly dissented. The airport is doing fine because of current management. Shopping around "is like slapping Mark for doing a good job," Jones declared. He noted that in addition to going 15 years without a single complaint, Francis has spearheaded efforts to land more than $15 million in grants for upgrades.

Former commissioner Mike Milovich returned to the courthouse to support Francis. "The airport has gone from ashes to a great transportation hub for Southeastern Utah," he said.

Shortly after Milovich joined the commission 20 years ago, the main hangar at the airport burned down. After that, the county went through four different fixed base operators who could not make things work, he recalled.

"It got so we had pilots punching pilots, pilots punching FBOs and FBOs going after each other," Milovich said.

Then Mark Francis and his Redtail Aviation company arrived and turned things around, according to the former commissioner. "When you've got somebody you can trust, you'd better give them some consideration," he advised.

Businessman Gust Kalatzes and rancher Butch Jensen, both of who deal with the airport and Redtail, also backed Francis.

However, Steve Hill of Price Mine Service said he favors the request for proposals. As a contractor by trade, he has to write proposals all the time and compete for jobs, he explained, so he sees no harm in looking around.

Francis himself told the commission of the improvements that have taken place on his watch, such as parallel taxiways and state-of-the-art lighting. In addition, Red Tail, with a $3 million operation and $500,000 payroll, is good for Southeastern Utah.

While it is true that the contract between him and the county has not been renegotiated for almost 10 years, it has been automatically renewed annually, so it is not like he has been operating without a contract, he added.

But if the commission wants to call for proposals, he'll go along and submit one, he concluded.




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