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Legal pressure mounted Friday from opponents of a state law that would change the composition of the Jackson airport board.
Jeffery Stallworth, a Jackson resident and former airport commissioner, asked a federal court Friday for a preliminary injunction to prevent the legislation from going into effect on July 1.
His request came a day after the city of Jackson sought to join Stallworth’s suit. In a 56-page motion to the court, Jackson names Mayor Tony Yarber and each member of the city council as well as the members of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority as plaintiffs.
“Senate Bill 2162 seeks to ‘take,’ ‘convert’ or otherwise ‘strip’ the City of property rights and municipal purposes,” Jackson’s lawyers write in the city’s motion. “Such arbitrary and capricious actions by the State of Mississippi deprive the City of its property rights without due process or an opportunity to be heard.”
In recent weeks, both city and airport authority officials have argued that the state cannot change management of the airport without approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Stallworth filed his lawsuit in April, claiming that the legislation creating a nine-member airport authority violates his constitutional rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Specifically, Stallworth claims that the legislation treats black citizens of Jackson “less favorably” than whites in Jackson and in Madison and Rankin counties.
In response to Stallworth’s lawsuit, attorneys for Gov. Phil Bryant (who is named as defendant with the state, the Legislature, Mississippi Department of Transportation and the East Metro Parkway Corridor Commission), denied most of the claims and argue that the complaint should be dismissed.
Until filing a petition to join Stallworth’s lawsuit, city officials mainly had focused on the FAA’s approval authority for airport management, citing federal register entries by the FAA.
According to the agency’s federal register entry, “While state or local legislative action, or a judicial action … may seek to change an airport’s ownership, sponsorship, governance, or operations, only the FAA has the authority to determine sponsor eligibility, approve and formally change airport sponsorship, and approve and issue a new Airport Operating Certificate.
“The FAA has a statutory obligation to ensure that an airport sponsor/operator is capable of assuming all grant assurances, safety compliance, and other federal obligations, and has the expertise to operate the airport,” the entry reads.
The agency also advises state and local governments considering legislation to change airport owners to work with the current sponsor and to seek technical assistance from the FAA.
Stallworth also requested a hearing on his preliminary-injunction motion, but no hearing date has yet been set.