Sept. 27 2018 11:20 AM

Long-time board member ousted amid recent appointments

THURSDAY, SEPT. 27 — Prominent local businessman and broadcaster Chris Holman has been ousted from the Capital Regional Airport Authority, which he chairs.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners appointed two new members Tuesday night to replace Holman and Dick Baker. Holman sought reappointment. Baker did not.

The board acted on the advice of the Democratic Caucus. Some county officials criticized the repeated term-limit extensions that allowed him to serve since 2001. Others questioned Holman’s overlapping business interests.

“Chris Holman kind of runs the place. Chris Holman is playing many, very deep games,” Commissioner Mark Grebner explained to the county’s Democratic Caucus earlier this week before the decision was made. “I’m not saying there’s somebody better than Chris. I just think it’s time to pry Chris’ fingers off the airport board.”

Grebner said Holman, who founded the Greater Lansing Business Monthly magazine and operates the Michigan Business Network, has too many “overlapping” business interests to remain as an impartial member of the authority’s board of directors.

“I personally have been opposed to Chris’ reappointment multiple times,” Grebner added. “I felt uncomfortable with him being on there. He’s effectively running the airport because that board is so independent from any other governing body. Of all the things that we’ve done, I can’t think of anything more controversial than this.”

Holman, who sold his stake in the magazine to the M3 Group several years ago, denied any potential conflict of interests. He acknowledged that may have overstayed his welcome on the board but noted his lengthy tenure helped cultivate a useful “institutional knowledge” of airport operations that lended well to frequent turnover.

The six-member authority is composed of three appointments from Ingham County and three appointments from the city of Lansing. A four-year term limit has been waived at least three times to allow Holman to continue in his position. And at least five commissioners thought it was time to see him leave the board.

Commercial airline pilot Debra Groh and Daniel Schiffer, with a wide array of experience managing other airport operations, were instead appointed to fill the positions. Holman and Baker will vacate the board by Sunday so their replacements can take the reins at the local airports. The authority oversees Capital Region International Airport and Mason Jewett Field.

“We had two really terrific candidates and an opportunity to bring in some new blood,” Commissioner Todd Tennis said “That’s all it was for me. We often waive the term limits maybe once or twice, but this would’ve been excessive” to reappoint Holman.

“The two people they picked are going to be great,” Holman said. “They’re friends of mine, very close friends. I had anticipated serving out this term and going away anyway. A couple of people encouraged me to stay for one more term but I think we have some very good people on there who will provide some fine leadership.”

Commissioner Victor Celentino, the lone dissenting vote to appoint Shiffer to the board, said he would have liked to see Holman keep his position for another term. But the county’s “binding caucus” model, where commissioners are obligated to follow the overarching recommendation from the Democratic Party, prevailed.

“Mr. Holman does bring some historical perspective and some experience to help lead us in some of our projects and endeavors in the future,” Celentino contended. “He was been very instrumental with American Airlines coming into the airport and keeping their slots at Reagan International Airport.”

Celentino’s motion to recommend Holman’s appointment, however, was shot down in the Democratic Caucus. A later motion from Grebner to appoint “the other guy who’s name I can’t remember” later passed by nearly unanimous vote. Only Celentino voted against the motion in hopes of keeping Holman on board.

“I didn’t agree with about two-thirds of the things (Shiffer) said but he seems knowledgeable,” Grebner added. He also thought Groh’s experience with the Mason Jewett Field — which he labeled as a “petting zoo of an airport” — will also help dedicate some needed attention to an otherwise neglected facility, he explained.

Celentino, however, ultimately supported the recommendations from the Democratic Caucus when the item landed before the county commission. Commissioner Randy Schafer criticized the county’s allegiance to the desires of the Democratic Caucus and served as the only dissenting commission vote against the appointments.

“The binding caucus might work in some cases but in some cases it’s a total failure,” Schafer added. “It keeps quality people out of office. We don’t need any more controversy for issues in this county.”

Holman said although he will no longer serve as a member of the board, he’s only one call away for anyone that wants his guidance in the future. He joked that he might’ve been booted from the living room, but he’ll still be in the basement, ready to help any and all airport authority members at a moment’s notice.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor could hypothetically reinstall Holman to represent the city during his next round of appointments. But Holman said he wouldn’t be interested in finding a back door to return to the board. He’ll only offer his advice from the sideline.

“Nobody has to call me but I’ll be here if they need anything,” Holman added.