From Q&A, a few conclusions

Published 9:33 am Saturday, February 12, 2011

Amid a series of public-relations blunders, the Franklin City Council acted wisely in soliciting written questions from citizens about the Navy’s proposed use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training — and posting answers on the city’s website.

Opponents can — and will— quibble with the format of the Q&A and the usefulness of some of the answers, but important conclusions can be drawn from what the Navy and city have written.

Interested citizens will want to read the questions and answers thoroughly in advance of a verbal Q&A with Navy and city officials Monday night at the Paul D. Camp Community College Regional Workforce Development Center. Some highlights of the online Q&A:

Q: How did the Navy come to a decision to negotiate with the City of Franklin for use of the Franklin Municipal Airport for Navy flight training?

A: In April 2010 the Navy announced a proposal for the use of a public or private airfield for the purpose of conducting Field Carrier Landing Practice training for Navy E-2 and C-2 squadrons home-based and transient to Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field.

In response, the Navy received interest from several public airfields that met minimum airfield criteria. In surveying these airfields, including Franklin Municipal Airport, the Navy identified it held an existing real estate interest in Franklin Municipal Airport. Confirmation of this interest, coupled with Navy policy to utilize existing real estate interests before obtaining additional interests, and as Franklin Municipal Airport met all criteria to be able to conduct Field Carrier Landing Practice training operations, a decision was made to forego a competitive request for proposal process and to negotiate directly with the City of Franklin.

This columnist’s observation: Note that other communities indeed were — and might still be — interested in partnering with the Navy.

Q: Is the Navy considering any other public airfields for Field Carrier Landing Practice training for E-2 and C-2 squadrons home based at and transient to Naval Station (NS) Norfolk Chambers Field?

A: No, the Navy is only considering Franklin Municipal Airport.

Observation: For this exclusivity, citizens can thank — or blame — the City Council. After huddling behind closed doors on Monday, Jan. 10, the council voted unanimously to continue discussions with the Navy. (Councilman Greg McLemore was absent.) As reported in this space last month, the Navy, confused by the mixed signals it was getting, sought assurances from Franklin that city officials were committed to pursuing a partnership. The Navy, which was prepared to issue a request for proposals from other interested communities, got that assurance from the council the week of Jan. 10.

Q: Can I be given one good reason to bring the Navy planes to Franklin? And, can this be answered by someone on City Council, the Mayor or the City Manager?

A: This proposal will assist the U.S. Navy in training pilots in preparation for landing on aircraft carriers at sea.

Observation: Despite an early comparison to a visit from Santa Claus and talk of significant economic benefits, Franklin’s participation, we now learn, is fundamentally a matter of patriotism and being good Americans. City officials would have been wise to say so from the beginning.

Q: Can the Navy take over the airport to support carrier landing practice if Franklin doesn’t agree to a contract?

A: Yes, the deeds from 1947 and 1948 allow the Navy to do so.

Observation: The answer references World War II-era deeds transferring ownership of the airport to Franklin. Given this bold statement, it is interesting that a “deed of confirmation,” or correction, is now sought to cover the proposed training of turboprop pilots.

Q: Is the Performance Work Statement part of a performance based contract? If so, where are the sections about consequences and failure to meet performance standards?

A: Currently, the City staff is reviewing the Performance Work Statement, but no contracts are pending at this time.

Observation: Despite the acknowledged absence of a contract, the City Council at least twice has used “discussion of the award of a public contract” as legal justification of secret talks about the Navy proposal.

For all of its public declarations about transparency and positive steps such as the online Q&A and Monday night’s town hall meeting, the council continues to create distrust and cynicism through its actions.

Uncomfortable as it might be on such a divisive issue, council members must muster the courage to deliberate it openly.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is