James Bohnsack is stepping down from the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority in the wake of more controversy surrounding his appointment to the board.
Bohnsack said Tuesday he will resign from the airport authority to allow it to focus on the business at hand, as well as to accept his re-appointment as a trustee to the Andalusia Fire Protection District board.
His dual role of serving on the airport and fire district boards was challenged this week by Edgar County Watchdogs. The group — an independent, bipartisan government watchdog group in Illinois — filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Transportation and IDOT's Department of Aeronautics stating that Bohnsack's seat on two boards violates the Airport Authority Act.
The watchdog group filed an initial complaint April 14 saying Bohnsack should be disqualified from the airport authority because he resides in Andalusia, outside the airport's taxing district.
The airport authority, the governing body of the Quad-City International Airport, levies taxes on seven of the county's townships: Hampton, Moline, South Moline, Rock Island, South Rock Island, Blackhawk and Coal Valley.
"By rights, I can't do both," Bohnsack said, adding he was unaware previously of the conflict. According to statute, he said "the last appointment takes you off your previous appointment."
Bohnsack, who chairs the airport authority, was re-appointed in November for his second term to expire Nov. 30, 2022. He was first appointed to the fire district in 2015 for a term that expired Tuesday. His latest appointment was for a term to expire May 1, 2021.
Bohnsack has served the fire district in a volunteer capacity as its treasurer since 1986. But the trustee position, which is appointed, is the one that violates state statute, he said. Stepping down from the airport board "is the most sensible way" to move forward, he added. "I don't want to put the airport in any jeopardy."
He will retain the appointment as trustee.
"You could fight it, or make the commissioners make a choice (if he should serve) but that's not fair at all," he said. "It's a good group of commissioners and they have a lot of work to do right now with Bruce (Carter) retiring. It's a great airport and everything is on a great curve, I don't want to slow it down."
Rock Island County Board Chair Kenneth "Moose" Maranda questioned whether the two roles are a conflict. According to Maranda, the Illinois Attorney General issues an index of opinions on offices that are compatible with one another and he does not find a conflict between airport commissioner and fire district trustee. "Nothing has been proven to me that there is anything illegal," he said.
He said the county is awaiting a formal letter from Bohnsack.
Carter, the airport's aviation director, said he is sorry to see Bohnsack leave the board. "Jim has been such a good leader. He is focused on development and making the airport shine everyday."
Both Carter and Bohnsack said the airport's focus should be on continuing to grow its passenger enplanements and its air cargo business as well as completing nearly $5 million in construction projects this summer. Carter said enplanements have been rising for the past three months.
Bohnsack also said in leaving office, he protects the airport from any potential legal battles over his appointment. "At this time, with the airport doing so well, Bruce retiring and finding his replacement, there is no reason to muddy it up," he added.
According to Carter, Bohnsack's role as chairman likely will be filled by Vice Chair John Malvik, who was in line to move up to chairman on July 1. Malvik, who also was appointed by the county board, lives in Moline and within a taxing district, Carter added.
Maranda said he now will appoint a replacement to fill out the remainder of Bohnsack's five-year term, which must be affirmed by the county board.
The issue of Bohnsack's ineligibility due to his residency first was challenged by Rock Island County Board Member Drue Mielke, R-Coal Valley.
Mielke said Tuesday that he first questioned the situation in 2015 but was "told that the county can pick three people from anywhere in the county. I knew that was wrong."
He said when Bohnsack's re-appointment came up last fall he approved the appointment "contingent on his (Bohnsack's) eligibility." But the appointment "sailed through," he added.
"It should never have gotten this far," Mielke said. "I don't think it should ever have gotten out of the county board. I blame the county board."
Asked for his reaction to Bohnsack's decision, he said "This never was about the person. It was about the issue ... No, I'm not happy about the outcome. It should never have gotten this far."
He added the county board should be more diligent in vetting its future appointments.
"I don't have anything against Mr. Bohnsack," Mielke said. "I said in November he was qualified. But he just doesn't live in the (taxing) boundary."