Reforming operations at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is a top priority in the Michigan Senate, according to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron). DeGrow is among a sizeable group of Republican legislators accusing the airport”s operators of gross mismanagement.

The airport, operated by Wayne County and managed by the county executive, had been a target for a state takeover. Now, however, the proposed reform will only extend as far as requiring the airport to obey new rules in an amended state Aeronautics Code.

DeGrow”s spokesman, Aaron Keesler, said yesterday a vote on legislation can be expected within the next two months.

The proposed added provisions in the Aeronautics Code would:

n Prohibit airport officials from awarding contracts to contractors or subcontractors who employ or are owned by relatives of airport officials.

n Require airports to perform background checks of employees and appoint an ombudsman to handle complaints by travelers.

n Require the airport to publish on its website requests for bids for proposed contracts.

Michael Conway, director of external relations for Detroit Metro, said the new rules are unnecessary and said the investigation and proposed bill are an attempt by “outstate Republicans to embarrass downstate Democrats.”

Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, Wayne County”s former corporation counsel, is a Democratic candidate for governor.

Sen. Loren Bennett (R-Canton), vice chair of the Senate”s Detroit Metro Airport Review Committee, said it is time to deem activities previously considered inappropriate illegal.

Senate Bill 690, he said, “is really going to address ethics as well as what should and shouldn”t be done at airports and whether or not contracts can be awarded to relatives.”

Democrats have accused Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, of performing a partisan investigation. Republicans, especially the majority leader, Senate Metro Airport Review Committee Chair Glenn Steil of Grand Rapids, have charged the county with mismanaging the airport.

Conway acknowledged that the airport has had problems in the past but said it will be dramatically improved after the Feb. 24 opening of its new midfield terminal for Northwest Airlines.

State Rep. Ray Basham is a Democrat who represents Taylor and the airport”s hometown, Romulus. He said the state does not have the authority to conduct the present investigation, since the Wayne County Commission is invested with oversight of the airport.

Besides, he said, “Wayne County”s airport is a jewel to not only my district but to the people of the state of Michigan.”

Senate committee member Bennett said he expected a form of the legislation to pass the Senate soon, although it is constantly being revised.

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