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Heber City Council accuses mayor of misrepresenting airport study

(Back, from right) Heber City councilmembers Rachel Kahler, Mike Johnston, Yvonne Barney, Mayor Heidi Franco, Councilmember Ryan Stack and City Manager Matt Brower talk in Tuesday's special meeting at Heber City Hall.
Heber City
(Back, from right) Heber City councilmembers Rachel Kahler, Mike Johnston, Yvonne Barney, Mayor Heidi Franco, Councilmember Ryan Stack and City Manager Matt Brower talk in Tuesday's special meeting at Heber City Hall.

A discussion between the Heber City Council and mayor about planning for upgrades at the Heber Valley Airport brought out accusations of power-grabbing.

The Heber City Council’s special meeting Tuesday turned into a two-hour dispute over a future public hearing and the mayor’s authority.

Heber City Councilmember Ryan Stack said he called the special meeting Tuesday because he was frustrated at some outcomes of last week’s airport planning open house.

He and other council members said Mayor Heidi Franco had undermined the city’s planning process by misleading the public last week about upgrading Heber’s airport. Franco disputed that, saying her actions were designed to encourage resident involvement.

Several tense exchanges Tuesday reflected philosophical differences that have surfaced since Franco took office in January.

Stack said that last week, Franco argued with engineers and cut them off as they explained various options for airport safety upgrades.

Some residents oppose changes that could bring more air traffic, but Stack and other officials say that without making safety improvements, the city could be held liable for not complying with federal standards.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Stack proposed having city staff and consultants run future airport meetings.

“I have long said that if we're going to ask for public input,” Stack said, “we have to make sure that we present real, accurate information in order to generate the input that we are soliciting, and doesn't do anybody any favors to ask for input on something that is not viable or unrealistic, or that will put the city in legal jeopardy.”

Franco denied silencing anyone and called Stack’s proposal an attempt to take her mayoral powers away.

She also denied Stack’s request to change who runs those meetings, calling it out of order. When City Attorney Mark Smedley said Stack’s order should be allowed to continue, Franco refused to allow it without seeing city code in writing to substantiate that.

Stack said another reason he scheduled the special meeting was to address Franco’s impromptu call for a public hearing on the airport.

During the open house, Franco said that the council would vote October 18 on whether to approve the airport consultants’ general plan. She also announced a public hearing would happen before the vote.

Stack and Councilmember Mike Johnston said the way Franco described the public hearing was misleading. They said she implied that the council would consider resident input on whether to approve the master plan that day, when in fact the council would just be voting on a preliminary step.

Franco argued she was just scheduling a meeting to give people a chance to speak, as promised in the project’s early phases.

“I want to earn the public's trust every day,” Franco said. “That's who elected me, that's who I'm really accountable to, and that's my goal. The point is, why are we nitpicking at each other when the goal is that we need to keep our promises and have the second meeting on the alternatives?”

Ultimately, the council voted to hold a special public hearing October 17, rather than include it in a regular meeting, to allow more time to focus on the issue. Johnston said the format should allow both the public and the council to speak uninterrupted.

The council also decided to wait until next week’s city council meeting to decide who would run future airport meetings, giving staff time to study city and state code.

For a link to view the whole discussion, visit heberut.gov.

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