Commissioners voted without taking any public input on the decision; a public comment period was held at the end of the meeting.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Airport Commission has voted to lease city hangar office space to Taconic Aviation amidst pushback from angry airport users and residents.
The commission agreed to give Taconic Aviation owner Alex Kelly, a convicted rapist, permission to continue using the office space but after the vote, attendees railed against the commission and Kelly.
"My concern is that many people that first come to the airport either by air or by land come to this building they are going to encounter this person with his history," attendee Derek Rougeau said. "He is infamous. This is going be the face of the North Adams airport. This is a travesty."
For the past several months Kelly has been seeking permission and office space at the airport to run his flight school and skydiving business. Last month, the commission delayed a vote so it could review other applications. Kelly was allowed to use the space in the interim.
Kelly has continually alleged that the commission purposefully delayed votes and placed obstacles in front of him. He has been trying to relocate his business from Bennington, Vt., because the airport there is closed for reconstruction.
Although it has not been specifically talked about at past meetings, it is known that Kelly was convicted in 1997 of raping two teenage girls in 1986 in Connecticut. He fled the country for Europe and evaded capture for nearly a decade. He surrendered and was sentenced to 16 years in prison but was released after 10 years on good behavior in 2007.
The commissioners said they also reviewed an application from Greylock Flying Club to use the recently renovated city-owned hangar but agreed that Taconic Aviation was a more viable business.
"Mr. Kelly certainly presented a viable business that has been operating there for quite some time and I can certainly see where an office space would be useful," Chairman Jeff Naughton said. "I think you have supplied us with everything we have asked for."
Commissioner Dean Bullet was the only one to express some concerns and noted that both proposals made a point to attack the other entity, which he felt was disappointing.
The commissioners did not allow comment during the meeting and only opened the floor for public comment after they completed their business.
Area resident Joseph Smith said he thought Kelly was a liability to the city and cited a 2015 AP story that reported that Kelly allegedly punched a skydiver, groped a male skydiver and threatened a pilot while working in Connecticut.
"Although these accusations did not result in any arrests we should take them seriously based on multiple accusers existing and his previous conviction history," he said. "If we are to grant usage we should at least take reasonable steps to protect our city from litigation such as requiring Mr. Kelly to inform all tandem-jump customers of his past."
Smith added that Kelly is not registered as a sex offender in Massachusetts. A search of the Massachusetts registry yields no results for Kelly; he is listed on the state of Connecticut Sex Offender Registry as living in Vermont.*
Resident Barbara May said she thought the commission should consider personal character when making its determinations and suggested that if someone else wants to use the space such things should be taken into account.
"Does character not count for anything?" May said. "I think it is kind of appalling that someone with his record would be welcomed with open arms. I have daughters, they have gone parachuting and I would never let them jump with someone like Mr. Kelly."
Resident and teacher Erica Manville echoed May and said the commission should be protecting the community.
"I would not want to go to this business and jump with this obvious horrible person by the way he is acting so I would just want to say on the part of my students who are not here to speak and for the women in this area, I am appalled," she said. "We look at you as people who are going to help us be safe and I am shaking because I can't believe that we aren't taking this into consideration."
President of Greylock Flying Club Sue Mead clarified what was in her application during public comment and said the club's goal was to be a positive asset at the airport "to keep the aviation community healthy and engaged."
She added that the club has a board of directors and has registered as a nonprofit but is not currently requesting the space yet. She instead asked that the commission only provide Kelly with a lease until Oct. 31.
"We did not ask for the space at this time as you know but we did request of you that you would consider giving Mr. Kelly a lease through Oct. 31," she said. "We would ask you to consider this and the circumstances that take place over the next few months at the airport. I know he has brought a lot of business here but there is a lot of controversy that surrounds it."
Kelly did not respond directly to anyone during public comment and only had a few words. He reportedly, however, exchanged heated words with several of the attendees after the meeting.
"I just want to say thank you for the warm welcome I have received. You guys are wonderful people especially you with the tongue out — you are a really good-looking man," Kelly said during the meeting. "Anyways, thank you so much for the warm welcome and I really look forward to this. We are actually going to have a professional business here and we are going to be very successful — we have been very successful so far and thank you."
The commission did not respond during public comment but noted Kelly's lease agreement would have to be negotiated.
Kelly also did offer to maintain the hangar and the public bathrooms and quelled the commission's concern that his business would spill out and take over the public area in the hangar.
This was not the only tense moment during the meeting and after Airport Manager Bill Greenwald announced his resignation, former commissioner Trevor Gilman urged the commission and the city to hire a full-time manager.
"This is the most dangerous thing that has happened here at the airport since I have been here 25 years," he said. "I don't think any of you four have any idea what really the airport manager does and I think you are going to be overwhelmed."
Gilman said multiple airports throughout the county have full-time employees but Harriman & West has never had one and has mostly relied on volunteers.
He went on to say with skydiving now at the airport and other changes a full-time manager is needed.
"Right now we are switching the traffic patterns ... which is still not marked because no one knows it needs to be marked," he said. "You have no UNICOM anymore, no one providing advisories ... and now you have skydivers jumping in the middle of it making no radio calls to local traffic patterns. Someone is going to die ... it is unsafe."
On a lighter note at the beginning of the meeting, Greenwald said he had enjoyed his time as airport manager.
"I really worked hard at it and I really enjoyed it," he said.
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