Council mum on closed session about ‘contract’

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, January 25, 2011

FRANKLIN-Two hours after hearing citizens’ complaints about the Navy’s proposed use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training, the City Council on Monday met behind closed doors to discuss an undisclosed “public contract.”

The closed session was not on the meeting agenda that was published in advance and distributed to citizens who attended the meeting.

After the 45-minute closed session, council members returned to open session but took no action. Mayor Jim Councill and other council members declined to comment on what they had discussed.

Opponents of the Navy project filled the council chambers, and several Franklin and Isle of Wight County citizens spoke against the project during “Citizens Time,” a portion of the meeting set aside for citizen input. Former Isle of Wight County Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw was among those speaking in opposition.

The council did not address the citizens’ comments, but the mayor thanked them for their input and said the city would respond to citizens’ questions at the council’s next regular meeting in February. He made no mention of the closed session planned for later, and opponents quickly left the council chambers as council members continued with items on their agenda.

At the conclusion of the two-hour open session, Councill asked for a motion to enter closed session. Councilman Benny Burgess made the motion and cited negotiation of a “public contract” as the reason.

Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson asked why the closed session was not on the council’s agenda, and Councill said it had been added after the agenda was published and distributed to council members. After a long pause, Johnson joined her colleagues in voting to enter closed session. She shook her head in apparent frustration as she cast her vote.

The Navy wants to use the Franklin airport to train pilots of turboprop aircraft that deliver cargo and personnel to ships at sea. After saying last spring that it would field proposals from a number of airfields in the region, the Navy announced in the fall that it was negotiating with Franklin because of a World War II-era deed giving the Navy permanent access to the Franklin airport.