By Steve Jagler Special to Published Nov 17, 2006 at 8:39 AM
If anyone knows about what is and what isn’t working at General Mitchell International Airport, it’s Barry Bateman, director of the facility.

However, if you expect Bateman to publicly express his complete viewpoints on the good, the bad and the ugly of ol’ Billy Mitchell, well, you best wait for the next flight out of town.

The Milwaukee Press Club will conduct a Newsmaker Luncheon on “The Future of Milwaukee’s Airport” in December. The featured newsmakers will be state Rep. Jeffrey Stone (R-Greendale) and Milwaukee County Supervisor James White.

Stone and fellow South Side legislators Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) and Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) co-sponsored a controversial bill last December to shift control of the airport away from the county to a regional authority.

The legislators argued that the airport is a resource for the region and the state, not just the county, so the oversight of the facility should be shifted to a broader authority.

Their stance gained momentum when a study commissioned by the independent Wisconsin Policy Research Institute concluded that the idea of a regional authority deserves consideration.

The report, compiled by Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, stated, “Although the idea of privatizing Milwaukee’s airport sounded strange in 1994, the world has changed a lot over the past decade. Airport privatization has become a worldwide phenomenon, with active investors and global airport management companies now turning their attention to the previously neglected U.S. market. And although U.S. airlines have historically opposed airport privatization, in their current financial condition they might welcome a privatization deal that reduced their future risk of unpredictable increases in airport rates and charges. With Chicago moving ahead with its process to lease Midway Airport, Milwaukee County should look seriously at doing likewise with General Mitchell International Airport.”  (The full report is available here.)

However, the proposal was summarily denounced by 17 of the 19 members of the Milwaukee County Board.

Stone hasn’t given up on the idea, as he has conducted three hearings about the state’s laws for governing airports. A fourth meeting was postponed because of schedule conflicts Nov. 15 and has been tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 4, Stone said.

Stone is trying to maneuver a change in the state laws through a political minefield that became even more complicated when the Democrats took control of the Assembly and gained seats in the Senate in the recent elections.

Stone and White will square off in the Newsmaker Luncheon scheduled for Dec. 13 at the Newsroom Pub, 137 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee (see for details).

However, Bateman declined to be on the panel. In fact, you probably won’t find Bateman anywhere within shouting distance of that discussion.

Smart fella. You see, Bateman received a letter from Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, reminding Bateman who signs his paychecks. A hint. It isn’t Stone. Or Plale. Or Honadel.

For the sake of the public discourse, it’s a shame Bateman can’t share his honest assessments without fear of retribution. Milwaukee County needs all of the honest and varied ideas it can find on a wide range of issues these days, including the future of the airport.

Let me give you an example. In a casual conversation in Milwaukee last week, Robert Colangelo, founder and executive of the National Brownfield Association, told me that he believes Chicago and Milwaukee should collaborate their resources and transform General Mitchell International Airport into Chicago’s third airport. Colangelo, a Chicago resident, said his city needs another airport, and rather than build it from scratch, it would make more sense to connect Chicago and Milwaukee by a high-speed rail service and designate Mitchell International as Chicago’s third airport.

Imagine the commerce that would be opened to Milwaukee businesses if we could travel by rail to Chicago in just 15 to 30 minutes. Imagine the commerce that would come to Milwaukee if that could happen.

Just imagine.

- Steve Jagler is the executive editor of Small Business Times (
Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at