The Lewiston City Council opted against reappointing former City Manager Jim Bennett to the board of the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport on Monday, going instead with Lewiston entrepreneur and private pilot Katie Seekins.
Seekins and her ex-husband, Glen Seekins, founded gun and gun parts maker Seekins Precision in 2005 and grew it into a prominent commercial operation with approximately 50 employees. City Councilor John Pernsteiner said that track record was one reason he decided to support Seekins over three other applicants, including Bennett.
Pernsteiner also said that while Bennett was the right person for the job when the airport and the board were recently in a state of turmoil, Seekins appears to be the right person to help the airport rebuild for the future.
“Two years ago we were faced with a decision where the airport was under severe scrutiny from the (Federal Aviation Administration) and we needed that high level of detailed accountability in making sure that we were back into the FAA’s good graces,” Pernsteiner said, noting that the makeup of the board at that point offered a specific skill set and steady hand during an uncertain time. “So thinking about the next phase of the airport, we were really starting to move into that growth phase. And this was our opportunity to really start to put everything into motion.”
The airport board fell apart in 2018, partly over disagreements about a former manager’s performance. The airport also lost most of its commercial passenger service when Horizon Air pulled out, citing low passenger numbers. It also faced threats to its overall status as a commercial airport when its federal certification came into question over several deficiencies.
City Councilor Bob Blakey was the only member to vote against Seekins. After the meeting, he said he wanted to nominate Bennett to retain his position on the five-member board. But he never got the chance after Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder nominated Seekins, Pernsteiner seconded the motion and the vote was taken after a brief discussion.
Lewiston Mayor Mike Collins also gave his full support to Seekins, but offered his thanks to Bennett for his nearly two years of service.
“At that point in time, things were crazy and he stepped in and did an outstanding job of helping settle things,” Collins said. “So it has nothing to do with me not being supportive of Mr. Bennett.”
The other two applicants for the position were real estate agent Mike Menegas and commercial pilot Joe Gish, who is also a former airport board member. Last August, Seekins told the Lewiston Tribune that she sold her ownership in Seekins Precision to develop Ruby Properties, a real estate business. The company has a few local rentals, including an Airbnb. She also likes to dabble in business investments.
“I have grown up with the LWS airport in my backyard my entire life and as a private pilot have a love for flying,” Seekins said in a text message to the Tribune. “I foresee lots of challenging but rewarding work ahead. I am ready to apply my business experience and time to see that our airport grows to its full potential.”
Pernsteiner said the airport will need the skills of someone like Seekins as it faces the double challenges of rebuilding after the past period of instability and an entire airline industry reeling from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So I think Ms. Seekins’ experience in the business sector in a high-growth business, going from a garage to a world-class operation ... is a great asset that would be good for that board,” he said.
Now that crisis mode has passed, one of the airport board’s most important tasks will be to re-engage with the community to get it “back on board” as flying becomes safer and new opportunities for development arise on airport property, Pernsteiner added.
Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.