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Heber City Council bars mayor from running airport meetings

As a milestone in the ongoing Heber Valley Airport master planning process looms, disagreements between Heber City Council members and Heber Mayor Heidi Franco have sparked discord.
Heber City
As a milestone in the ongoing Heber Valley Airport master planning process looms, disagreements between Heber City Council members and Heber Mayor Heidi Franco have sparked discord.

A dispute over who should be in charge of meetings about the Heber Valley Airport spanned multiple weeks. The arguing ended Tuesday when the council voted the responsibility should belong to city staff and airport consultants.

After a September 22 open house about upgrading the Heber Valley Airport, city council members led a push to prevent elected officials from running future airport-related meetings. After Heber City Mayor Heidi Franco challenged the legality of that, the council revisited the subject Tuesday — and voted 4 to 0 to prohibit Franco from leading those meetings. Councilmember Yvonne Barney abstained.

Councilmember Rachel Kahler said she didn’t want Franco running future meetings about the airport because she distorted what was meant to be an informational presentation at the open house.

“That meeting was turned into a really difficult meeting because we allowed the public and the passion and even the confusion of it to really take over,” Kahler said. “I really do feel like it’s our responsibility not just to be a council and make decisions, but look at the facts and look at the evidence that’s presented to us.”

Franco said she was merely making sure the public has a chance to ask questions on what she described as the most important issue in the Heber Valley.

“People wanted to know the answers to these questions,” Franco said. “You might say, ‘Well, that’s political.’ Other people will say, ‘I’ve always wanted to know the answers to these questions.’ If you’re saying there’s political undertones, then there will always be political undertones in every single one of our meetings, and especially in that airport meeting because these meetings will decide whose values will win.”

At that open house in September, consultants showed designs they said the airport needed to make it safer and comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements to keep receiving federal funding. They said the upgrades are to protect the planes that use it and people in surrounding areas, like on U.S. Highway 189, which runs parallel to the runway.

Next, according to City Manager Matt Brower, the council will decide on October 18 whether to instruct city staff to study further the consultants’ recommendation.

Tuesday, City Attorney Mark Smedley presented elements of city and state code that showed the council may restrict the mayor from running meetings other than regular council meetings. The council voted that only city staff, consultants and attorneys can run future airport-related meetings and open houses.

Also at the open house, Franco called for a public meeting to be held later this month. That is scheduled for October 17, but details like where it’ll be held and at what time are still to be announced. Brower said it will be live-streamed and recorded.

Council members and Franco also argued over the public meeting, because Franco said it should be a formal public hearing during a regular council meeting. Council members said by scheduling a separate meeting, they can take more time to listen to people’s concerns, no matter how late the night may go, and reflect on their input before voting the next day.

Barney asked the rest of the council to really listen to the public.

“Please actually hear them,” Barney said. “Hear what they have to say. Be honest with them, be truthful with them, because they deserve that now. This many years in, they deserve that, and it’s our responsibility to give that to them, because that’s what they voted us in for.”

For a link to the full recording of the meeting, visit heberut.gov.

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