Public meetings at the airport could become truly public.
Responding to public demands for a greater voice on airport noise, Minnesota legislators on Tuesday advanced a proposal requiring Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to hold its government meetings outside of transportation security barriers.
The proposal would eliminate the need for the public to show a driver’s license or other photo ID to obtain a pass and stand in line to be scanned and searched to reach the main concourse where Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) meetings are held.
“That’s going way beyond what any public agency should do in order for the public to attend their deliberations,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said of the current policy.
The House Government Operations Committee approved the proposal Tuesday and the bill was sent to the House Transportation Policy Committee for further consideration.
“Fantastic,” said Bob Kane, an Edina resident who has been active in noise issues and who has complained that the Airports Commission’s decisions lacked transparency. Meeting outside security “makes it seem more open to people,” he said.
The Legislature rarely deals with airport agency issues. But the call for change comes after metro homeowners complained last fall that they were inadequately informed about the potential impact of a new flight plan that would route more planes over some homes and fewer planes over others.
With the Airports Commission poised for a crucial November meeting, Edina community leaders e-mailed instructions to neighbors on how to get a security pass and find the room where officials would vote on the flight plan. More than 100 people showed up, some standing outside doors to the room.
After hearing emotional public testimony, the MAC recommended a partial use of the new flight system, excluding departure runways that send planes over parts of Minneapolis, Richfield and Edina. The Federal Aviation Administration, which recommended a more comprehensive plan, is trying to determine if the compromise will work.
Hornstein earlier Tuesday offered a more modest meeting proposal that would have required commission meetings and hearings to be held outside the airport security area when the agency determines there is “broad public interest” — defined as 30 or more people other than agency staff.
But Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, recommended that all of the meetings be held outside of security. “I don’t think it goes far enough,” he said of Hornstein’s proposal.
The MAC raised objections to Winkler’s proposal during committee testimony. While acknowledging that the public faces “some challenges” to attending a meeting inside security boundaries, a MAC official defended the current system. Mitchell Kilian, director of government affairs for the agency, said the airport location is convenient for businesspeople who make up the bulk of the audience at nearly all meetings.
“The majority of our meetings are pretty mundane,” Kilian said. “The idea of moving it out of the airport is a pretty drastic jump in our minds.”
He noted that the commission holds an annual meeting outside the airport and that meetings were held in Minneapolis and Eagan on the proposed new flight plan before the regular commission meeting behind security at the airport.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said the fact that the MAC occasionally has held meetings outside the airport shows it can be done on a regular basis.
Rep. Joyce Peppin, R- Rogers, said it doesn’t seem that hard to find an alternate location, like a nearby city council chambers. “I had a hard time understanding what the problem would be,” she said.
Kilian said the MAC was concerned about picking a neutral location for considering issues involving airport noise, which can divide communities.