JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The Wyoming Supreme Court yesterday released a unanimous order and opinion, ruling that Jackson Hole Airport Board is subject to the Wyoming Public Records Act, and may not cite a Special District Act as reason to withhold from the public certain documents and records.
“We have maintained all along that the Jackson Hole Airport Board had to play by the same rules as every other governmental entity covered by the Wyoming Public Records Act. It is gratifying from both a public interest perspective and our concerns as Wyoming Jet Center to see the Supreme Court review this case and come to its ruling,” said Greg Herrick, CEO of Wyoming Jet Center who had kept his airplane at the Jackson Hole Airport for more than 20 years.
The matter was precipitated by a request made by Wyoming Jet Center which is seeking to operate a second fixed base operator (FBO) at the Jackson Hole Airport. On Aug. 31, 2017, under the Wyoming Public Records Act, Wyoming Jet Center sought to inspect or obtain copies of documents related to the Jackson Hole Airport Board’s decision to deny competition at the Airport by purchasing the existing monopoly FBO for $26,000,000 and continue to serve as the sole FBO at the Airport.
“The Airport Board has always been as transparent as possible when it comes to disclosure of public records,” said Airport Executive Director Jim Elwood. “The Supreme Court’s decision will not change that, since the Airport has never withheld documents simply because they were required to be produced under the Act rather than the SDPRMA.” “In fact,” said Elwood, “the Airport has continued to respond to Wyoming Jet Center’s many records requests even after its lawsuit was filed.”
The Jackson Hole Airport Board furthered contends that at the time of the lawsuit, the Board had voluntarily responded and provided documents under numerous public records requests made by Wyoming Jet Center. The lawsuit did not assert that the Airport failed to produce documents required by the Act. Rather, it asserted that the Board did not produce a detailed listing of documents which were withheld because they were privileged or contained third parties confidential financial information. Wyoming Jet Center LLC asserted that such a detailed listing was required by the Act, the Board stated that it was technically subject to that Act, and Wyoming Jet Center then filed suit.
According to Wyoming Jet Center the decision for the Airport Board to operate the sole FBO is against federal law. The Airport Board argues its proposed operation of the monopoly FBO is allowed through a special FAA exception designed to help struggling airports remain financially viable.
Under the Wyoming Public Records Act, Wyoming Jet Center sought consultant’s reports, financial projections, emails and other information related to the Board’s decision to purchase the sole FBO. The Airport Board denied that it was subject to the Wyoming Public Records Act, even though the Airport Board is a joint powers board of the Jackson Town Council and the Teton County Board of County Commissioners.
Instead, the Airport Board claimed it was governed only by the Special District Public Records and Meetings Act. As such, the Airport Board concluded it was required to release only limited public documents.
According to Bruce Moats, the attorney for Wyoming Jet Center, “This ruling is not only important for the right of Teton County residents to know what the airport is up to, but it presents the opportunity to learn more information as to how the Airport administration and board dealt with Wyoming Jet Center’s request to provide competition at the Airport through a second FBO and ultimately decide to reject competition in favor of a government-owned FBO.”
It is unfortunate this rose to the level of a lawsuit, Elwood stated. “This decision will not have a significant impact on how the Airport Board responds to public records requests,” said Elwood. “We will continue to honor a wide range of public records requests, so long as the records requested are not excepted from the Act, such as those which are privileged, contain confidential financial or personal information, or are not otherwise required to be withheld,” he said.
WHat’s ahead for the Airport Board is reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision and working to develop a public records policy that is consistent with the ruling. The Airport has a long history of making information available to the public and has posted a large volume of information on its website for anyone interested in the workings of the Airport, its governance and policy, Elwood said.
For the Wyoming Jet Center, it has filed an additional suit in Wyoming District Court challenging the Jackson Hole Airport Board’s decision to use $26,000,000 in public revenue bonds to purchase the FBO because $25,670,000 of the purchase price consists of intangible assets commonly referred to as “blue sky.” A hearing in that case on the Airport’s motion for summary judgment is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2019, in the Teton County Courthouse.