A Warwick attorney, K. Joseph Shekarchi, who frequently represents petitioners coming before the City Council and the Zoning Board of Review, has been involved in Democratic city politics and who managed the General Treasurer campaign of Gina Raimondo, has been retained as a lobbyist by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
“The feeling was we needed to get someone adept at working with the City Council,” RIAC President and CEO Kevin Dillon said Friday. Dillon said RIAC advertised a request for proposals about a week and a half ago and that Shekarchi was the only respondent.
“We’re pleased. He has a good track record with the City Council,” Dillon said.
Dillon has often expressed his frustration with the council, especially after their Nov. 17 vote to petition the federal courts for a review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s record of decision favoring a runway extension and a series of other airport projects. Members of the council say they aren’t opposed to the growth of the airport but want guarantees on when properties will be acquired as well as air and water quality. Much of what council members are asking for was included in a memorandum of agreement the council rejected more than a year ago.
“We need common understanding as to what is happening,” said Dillon.
Shekarchi sees the airport as a major economic engine for the city and the state. And he doesn’t believe conditions are healthy at this time.
“Payless and Valet Parking are all dying. We need to keep at peak performance.” He said that city hotels are likewise feeling the crunch and that occupancy rates are hovering around 60 percent, which he called “break even.”
The runway extension and other airport projects “would be our own stimulus jobs program,” Shekarchi said.
Dillon said, in his years in airport administration here and elsewhere, he’s never retained a local lobbyist.
“Typically it’s been on a state level,” he said.
Dillon has welcomed the council to work out an agreement in an effort to avert protracted litigation that could take 13 to 18 months. And the council was expected to name a committee to conduct talks with RIAC at its meeting last night.
“We’ve wasted so much time at this airport,” he said.
The latest round of proposed airport projects, which have undergone multiple revisions, have been on the drawing boards for more than a decade. More than $12 million in airport and federal funds have been spent studying the environmental impacts of the projects.
Dillon said the financial terms of Shekarchi’s contract are being worked out and that RIAC is considering making him one of their team as the promise of additional issues, such as wetland permits and rezoning for charter hangars, to come before the council as RIAC moves forward.