Tahoe Truckee Airport board adopts new campaign policy | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Truckee Airport board adopts new campaign policy

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

A new policy has been adopted by the Tahoe Truckee Airport Board of Directors that tackles disclosure of donations and perceived conflicts of interest.

The policy requires board members to publicly disclose a donation of more than $250 received within the past 12 months of a pending issue from any person or entity that is involved in that item. A board member must also disclose any donation more than $250 given within three months after a decision was made on an issue involving the donor.

The policy also applies to donors that are in public support of approval or denial of issues in front of the board.

Exempt from the policy is any contribution from a donor simply because they are leasing space at the airport. The policy does not limit the amount of campaign contributions given to a candidate.

“In a small town where everyone is connected it’s even more of an issue of fairness and trust,” said Director Mary Hetherington. She said she preferred a policy that required board members to recuse themselves from an item if they received a contribution from someone involved in that issue pending before the board.

“If it seems reasonable to recuse yourself then you should. But if it’s not I don’t want the policy to force you to be recused,” said Director James Morrison. “I totally agree with disclosing it.”

‘BUILDS ON THE BONES’

Currently, all candidates running for the district’s board must file campaign contributions with the county clerk if their total exceeds $2,000, which is then posted on the county’s website. The new policy requires airport district staff to promptly place a link directly to the campaign contributions of Tahoe Truckee Airport board candidates on the district’s home page when there are more candidates than there are open seats.

Government code also states board members should not solicit or accept campaign contributions from anyone involved with an item pending before the board. However it does not apply to the airport board members as they are directly elected into their positions.

“All of you being directly elected onto the board this provision does not apply to you,” said Josh Nelson, legal counsel for the board. Nelson added that the new policy “builds on the bones” of existing government code but deals more with disclosure transparency.

EARLIER DISCUSSION

Debates over a new policy began months after an election that saw Morrison and former member John Jones, who were running on a slate together, raised more than $80,000 for their campaign.

Campaign donations were brought up at an October board meeting, ahead of last year’s elections, following two large campaign donations to the candidates from the owner of Mountain Lion Aviation, which plans to lease a new airport hangar that has not yet been built. The timing of the contributions and what fellow board members deemed a possible conflict of interest prompted discussion on the donations, and the board developing new campaign finance disclosure policies.

Of the $80,000 raised by Jones and Morrison, nearly $15,000 came in two donations from Mountain Lion Aviation owner Jim Wilkinson in August 2018, when Mountain Lion Aviation agreed on terms of a potential lease — if the new hangar is built — and the board unanimously voted to accept a term sheet with the aviation company and move ahead the bid process for the project.

UPDATE: Candidates running for the district’s board must file campaign contributions with the county clerk if their total exceeds $2,000, not the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at hjones@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2652.