North Carolina Airport to Have Its Own Security

The Onslow County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to leave both the town and Richlands and the Onslow County Sheriff's Department out of future security plans for Albert J. Ellis Airport and, instead, opted to create an internal airport security team.

The motion passed in a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Joe McLaughlin the lone dissenter.

Jerry Vickers, the airport's director, said although it could be tight, he believes the airport can have a security apparatus constructed by July 31.

"I'd take all I can get, but I believe can get it done," Vickers said.

The original security contract with the town of Richlands ends June 30, but board Chairman Lionell Midgett said he has had some contact with Richlands and believes they will continue to patrol the airport until the airport can assemble its team.

The security questions began in February when the board directed the county staff to study the feasibility of the Sheriff's Department taking over security duties at the airport.

In June 2003, the county made an agreement with Richlands to subcontract airport law enforcement duties. That contract was later extended through September 2004. It is now handled through the Richlands Police Department.

Since then, no new contract has been drawn, and Richlands has continued to provide security.

When the matter of the new contract was brought before the Board of Commissioners in February, Commissioner Joe McLaughlin suggested renewing the contract only through June 30, because he thought it was an appropriate time for a transition of airport duties to the Sheriff's Department.

The commissioners voted 3-1 to renew the contract only through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, an amount totaling $95,893.

According to the airport security contract, the agreement between Onslow County and the Transportation Security Administration was renewed in October of last year and extends through September. It totals $128,209.90, which is reimbursable by the TSA.

Vickers said the costs are essentially the same whether or not it's the airport or the Sheriff's Department in charge of the security. According to an April 11 letter to the commissioners, Onslow Sheriff Ed Brown estimated that airport security costs more than $200,000 per year, with $47,000 tied up with a private security contractor, Carolina Security, who supplies a night watchman for eight hours. Richlands Police Department supplies four police officers during flight times.

Vickers also said it makes more sense administratively and that it will help the security force deal with the TSA, which is in charge of inspections and other evaluations.

Monday's move is a change from the previous discussions concerning the future of airport security. While Brown made his willingness to take over security at the airport apparent in his April 11 letter, only McLaughlin still wanted the airport to be patrolled by the sheriff.

"I don't believe our airport director needs to get into the security business," he said. "We have a highly competent Sheriff's Department. At this late juncture to go in a completely new direction, I think it aggravates our deliberative process and gives short shrift to our Sheriff's Department."

McLaughlin also cited the airports at New Bern and Greenville, which use the law enforcement agencies within their jurisdiction to guard their airports. He said those airports are similar to Onslow County's airport and are examples worth following.

In other matters Monday night, a motion made by McLaughlin to alter the rules of procedure for voting was voted down 3-2, with McLaughlin and commissioners Martin Aragona Jr. the two in the minority.

The proposal stated commissioners will not vote "on any item before the board Ä‚