Despite a business owner’s threat to cancel a $20 million project at Middletown Regional Airport, the city says its new airport manager is implementing its strategic plan for the facility.
At the July meeting of the Airport Commission, John Hart II, owner of Selection.com and Start Skydiving, said he was aborting construction of a proposed 180-foot indoor indoor skydiving facility because of issues stemming with the new airport manager, Daniel Dickten.
In an email to the city, Hart claims Dickten has “disrupted operations” at the airport, used an emergency key to enter hangars leased by tenants without proper notice, and is not taking care of some maintenance issues.
He also claims that instead of seeking state funding to partner with Start Skydiving for its wind tunnel, the city partnered with Cincinnati State to develop the education hangar for the new avionics facility. When the city convinced Start Skydiving to leave the Warren County Airport in 2009, it made promises to renovate their hangar, Hart said, adding that the city did not fulfill that promise citing financial issues.
Dickten’s consulting company, DJD Airport Consulting, was hired on June 22 to serve as airport manager for six months via a $35,000 contract, according to the Middletown Law Department. Contracts for professional services under $50,000 do not have to be approved by council, according to city ordinances.
While city officials on Aug. 9 declined to comment on the issues raised in Hart’s email, citing potential litigation, they said Dickten was hired to help the city implement the airport’s strategic plan and manage daily operations — and that he is doing just that.
The airport is an asset to the city and its economic development efforts, City Manager Doug Adkins said in a memo to the Airport Commission and airport tenants sent one day after Hart's email.
“I want to be clear. We are now executing plans that have been in place for at least 4 years. … The airport is transforming into a much stronger, job producing, businesslike airport over the next few years. Everything the City has been doing over the past several years has been in preparation for the new Master Plan and Airport Layout Plan,” Adkins said in the memo.
Those plans include more than $2 million in investments at the airport next year alone, according to city officials.
In response to Hart’s claims about maintenance issues at the airport, Adkins’ memo noted the city’s liability insurance carrier recently inspected the airport as well as the Water Treatment Plant, the Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center.
Adkins said the insurance carrier picks which city facilities to inspect “to make sure the city is following the law and also to mitigate what they believe to be conditions that might create a potential liability claim in the future.” He said the city is required to resolve those issues and respond with how it was resolved.
Start Skydiving is one of the top five drop zones in the world, according to dropzone.com, a skydiving website. In his email to the city, Hart said the skydiving business attracts about 60,000 visitors a year to Middletown and has a direct economic impact of $10 million to $15 million to the city.
Hart told the Journal-News he may still consider building a smaller wind tunnel at the Middletown airport.
Start Skydiving officials met Tuesday with Adkins and other city officials. Hart, who was travelling was not at the meeting; however, he said the meeting went well and both sides agreed there were issues to resolve.
Hart said additional meetings with are scheduled for today with city officials and the city’s airport consultants, Woolpert and Brandstetter Carroll Inc.
“I hope we can resolve these issues,” Hart said.
Credit: MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF
Credit: MICHAEL D. CLARK/STAFF
Airport manager’s past includes controversy
Dickten’s previous experience includes airport manager at Lunken Airport and director of aviation for the Western Reserve Port Authority that operates the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
Both of those positions were marked in controversy, but the city law department said all hiring procedures were followed, including a background check, when Dickten was offered the contract.
Dickten was accused of sexual harassment twice by former Western Reserve Port Authority employees, according to reports by The (Youngstown) Vindicator. Both times, the Western Reserve Port Authority had the claims resolved through its insurance company that paid out settlements of $30,000 and $40,000 respectively. In January 2017, Dickten told the Vindicator that he never harassed the two women that were paid the settlements.
He resigned from that position on April 23, 2018, when his two-year contract expired.
Dickten was the center of controversy in 2004, when as airport manager at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati he tried to recruit commercial airlines there, which was a violation of city ordinances, according to news media reports.
Dickten was employed by the city of Cincinnati from July 1998 until he resigned as Lunken Airport manager in October 2004 following the controversy, according to a public information officer in the Cincinnati City Manager’s Office.
The Journal-News attempted to contact Dickten for comment on these issues. However, Middletown’s spokeswoman Shelby Quinlivan, responded with this statement: “There was not a termination with Mr. Dickten and Lunken Airport – Mr. Dickten left to open his own consulting business. An agreement between Western Reserve Port Authority and Mr. Dickten prevent any comment on his time at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.”
IMPROVEMENTS SINCE 2014 AT MIDDLETOWN REGIONAL AIRPORT
Nearly $2.55 million in federal, state and local funding have been spent on capital improvements at Middletown Regional Airport since 2014. City officials say they plan to invest another $2 million in capital improvement projects in 2019.
• Runway repairs (2014) — $150,000
• Land purchase for parking overflow (2014) — $10,000
• Obstruction removal (2015) — $75,000
• Road re-alignment (2015) — $350,000
• Land purchase for west side access (2016) — $100,000
• Lighting systems replaced (2016, 2017) — $35,000
• Repaving (2017) — $1.2 million
• Hangar roofs repaired (2017) — $45,000
• New automated weather observing system (2017) — $120,000
• Runway light replacement (2018) — $400,000
SOURCE: Middletown City Manager’s Aug. 9 memo to the Airport Commission and airport tenants
Ed Richter has been a working journalist for 36 years, with the last 32 years working in various capacities covering Butler and Warren counties as a reporter and an editor. An award-winning journalist, Richter covers local news and governments in Warren County focusing on Springboro, Lebanon, Franklin, Carlisle and Waynesville.