Middletown skydiving business owner sues airport commission members

Start Skydiving co-owner John Hart II has filed a lawsuit against each member of the Middletown Airport Commission alleging they failed to keep accurate minutes from several meetings as well as meeting without a quorum.

Hart II alleges each of the members of the Middletown Airport Commission violated the Sunshine Law at meetings held August 2019, October 2019, January 2020, February 2020, and March 2020. He filed the lawsuit on June 23.

However, Hart II is not suing the city of Middletown, which owns the Middletown Regional Airport, or Middletown City Council, which appointed the volunteer airport commission members.

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Tom Wortley, who has been involved with the airport since 1949 and has served as an airport commission member off and on for decades, including currently, called Hart II’s lawsuit “very sad” and “very disappointing.”

“I was very sad to see it,” he said. “I wanted the city and Start to have representatives to sit down with a mediator and work this out for the benefit of the city and the airport.”

John Langhorne, another airport commission member, said the lawsuit “doesn’t have any merit. It’s a distraction.”

Hart II is the co-owner of Start Skydiving and has been in a dispute with the city for the past few years concerning hangar lease and, most recently, the May 5 council decision to move the parachute landing zones to another part of the airport. The recommendation to move the landing zone came from the airport commission.

Hart II and Start have filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration over council’s decision.

At recent council meetings, supporters and employees of Hart II’s business have been very vocal about council’s decision.

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The lawsuits:

• Accuse the members of failing to prepare, file and maintain full and accurate minutes of commission meetings.

• Seek to declare invalid resolutions, rules, or formal actions of any kind by the airport commission that were the result of deliberations not conducted during meetings that didn’t follow meetings law.

• Ask Hart II be awarded a civil forfeiture of $500 for each distinct violation, as well as an award of all court costs and reasonable attorney fees

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At the May 19 council meeting, Mayor Nicole Condrey publicly criticized the airport commission for not preparing full and accurate meeting minutes for the same meetings cited by Hart II as well as several members by name for missing meetings that would require removal per city code. At that meeting, those airport commission minutes were pulled from the agenda until they were corrected. Condrey also accused the airport commission for violating Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and Sunshine Law.

Council Clerk Amy Schenck said the minutes that were pulled from that meeting have been re-submitted and are pending. Schenck said they will remain pending until council holds its work session on July 21 to discuss removing volunteer board and commission members.

City officials are working on an education program and other information to ensure members follow the Administrative Code, they said.

There is also a question of when board and commission minutes become “official” as council has to vote whether to receive and file those minutes.

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Condrey, who formerly was employed at Start Skydiving as general manager and continues as a member of Start-affiliated Team Fastrax, is under an Ohio Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion not to participate in any discussions or votes concerning the city’s dispute with Start Skydiving.

The case has been assigned to Judge Noah E. Powers II and no court dates have been scheduled, according to the Butler County Clerk of Court’s website.

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