By Brian Bullock/Staff Writer bbullock@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Friday, July 29, 2011

Filling the vacant seat on the Santa Maria Public Airport Board now falls to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. 

The four airport directors could not come to a decision about who should succeed Ted Eckert, who died in June, and in doing so decided to do nothing. Because they did not make a decision, airport Counsel Ray Biering said the matter would be forwarded to the county Board of Supervisors for its action.  County supervisors likely will appoint someone to the seat or allow district voters to decide in an election sometime next year. 

Biering told airport board members they still had time to hold a special meeting in order to make a decision — the board has 60 days from the time the seat was vacated. But the four directors decided that more time wouldn’t change their minds.

The sticking point that has existed for the past two weeks when six candidates applied for the position is that Board President Hugh Rafferty and Carl Engel Jr. support former board member Donald Lahr while Chuck Damiano and Chuck Adams chose local dentist and pilot Girard Brenneman.

Adams referred back to the November 2011 election in his selection of Brenneman, who finished third in the voting for two open seats.  In that election, Damiano received 11,880 votes to retain his place on the board, Eckert received 11,121 votes, while Brenneman tallied 10,185.  “If we have to make a decision, (Girard) is the logical choice,” Adams said, referring to the slightly more than 2-percent difference in the voting between Eckert and Brenneman. “If we look at what the constituents want, I think that’s the decision.”

Meanwhile, Engel and Rafferty back Lahr, who won the 2004 general election and chose not to seek a second term in 2008.  Rafferty said Lahr chose not to run because of physical problems, which since have been resolved. Engel said he would not overlook Lahr’s time on the board.  “I look for experience. I look for someone who has been elected to the board,” Engel said, noting that Lahr also was elected president of the board while in office.

The county Board of Supervisors now will have to decide how to proceed. If they don’t appoint Eckert’s replacement, it’s unclear how much an election could cost the district. Airport General Manager Chris Hastert said items on the past two ballots have cost anywhere between $15,000 and $44,000.  Biering said the cost is determined by how many items are on the ballot.

The idea of the county Board of Supervisors appointing a director wasn’t appealing to Adams.  “You’re going to have people who don’t even reside in the district making the decision,” he said.