Business Ties Of Longtime Airport Authority Chair Questioned

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(Memphis) An On Your Side Investigation into the issue of how money for legal fees is spent at the Memphis airport and who is getting the work. 

The Memphis Airport Authority controls the day-to-day operations at Memphis International.

The authority answers to board members appointed by the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County. 

In this report, we take a look at the chairman of the board and his close ties to one of the law firms getting the bulk of business when it comes to handling legal work for the authority.

The more money the Memphis airport authority saves, the more passengers could save in fees and services.

That's why when the On Your Side Investigators found out how much it paid law firms over the years, and that one law firm was getting the bulk of the business, we started asking questions.

“We handle everything internally that we can based on time and expertise and subject matter," said Brian Kuhn, Memphis Airport Authority, General Counsel.

Brian Kuhn and two paralegals make up the airport's entire legal team.

He says they can only do so much.

That's why the airport authority paid almost $300,000 to outside law firms last year.

The Glankler Brown Law Firm got 46.35% of the work, while four other firms shared the other 53.65% of the legal fees paid out.

The firm's founding partner, Grattan Brown, used to do the entire airport's legal work before a general counsel was hired.

Kuhn said, “We go back to them because they have the historical knowledge. They have the background and information so we don't have to educate or have new research paid for.”

One of Glankler Brown's attorneys is long time Airport Authority Board Chairman Arnold Perl.

He's been on the board for 30 years.

He joined the firm about two years ago.

He's engrained in airport operations but says he gets no money when the firm he belongs to, does work for the airport authority.

“My compensation arrangement at Glankler Brown was specifically structured so that no matter what work Glankler Brown did or didn't do I derived no potential financial benefit," said Arnold Perl, Memphis Airport Authority, Chairman.

Questions about Perl's possible conflict were first raised by Delta Does Memphis Organizers.

They’ve launched a Facebook campaign to lower fares and recruit another low-cost airline to Memphis.

“There are some people that have raised that question. It's one of the questions that was submitted from the group to the Chamber of Commerce, the CVB and Airport Authority at their forum," said Delta Does Memphis Organizer, Tom Jones.

The airport authority paid for an independent opinion from former Tennessee State Attorney General Mike Cody.

Cody investigated and found no conflict, violation of the law or ethics policy.

“Since I've been here, Stephanie, at Glankler Brown, I have never once spoken to General Counsel Brian Kuhn about which law firm to use, never,” said Perl.