Tucson Airport Authority Board Champions Diverse Perspectives
By Jay Gonzales
Keri Silvyn thinks there’s a passion needed to be a Tucson Airport Authority board member.
It could be a passion for aviation, economic development, business or community. Overseeing Tucson International Airport and Ryan Airfield entails all of those, which is why Silvyn said she’s a member of the TAA board and the chair for 2023-24.
“I have a deep love of Tucson and a deep desire to see it succeed and retain its identity,” said Silvyn, a local attorney whose practice centers on zoning and land use.
Tucson International Airport – TUS – needs a diversity of community support from a business and economic development standpoint, said Danette Bewley, TAA president and CEO. With 60 members of TAA–11 of whom serve on the board–TAA works to reflect the community both in its board and its membership to ensure ideas come from different points of view and experience.
The TAA was formed in 1948, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the board had a female chair, former Pima County Supervisor Katie Dusenberry. More recently, with a focused effort on diversity by the membership, three of the last four chairs have been female.
“You want your members and board members to reflect the community more closely,” Bewley said. “Collectively, we thought a pivot was needed. One step was to work with the board to modernize the TAA bylaws. Internal to the organization, we looked at industry and public agency best practices to make some meaningful shifts.”
“We felt diversity was important not only in whether you are male or female, but also your ethnicity and the business that you represent. We really get a lot out of the diversity of experience that our members bring to the position.”
Silvyn said the board must avoid what she calls “groupthink.” If everyone is from the same background, she said, it’s not conducive to generating the creativity needed for an organization that has a massive impact on its community.
As it is, the TAA has to operate within some boundaries that come from being regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, boundaries that most community boards don’t face. Getting creative with new ideas can be a challenge.
“I personally don’t like sitting on boards where everybody’s nodding and it’s groupthink,” she said. “I like sitting on boards where somebody has a conflicting or a different way of approaching a problem and getting to know and understand it. You’ve got to bring some of those backgrounds into the room in order to get that.”
“It’s important because our community is diverse, and the airport membership and leadership ought to mirror that diversity,” said Bruce Dusenberry, who served two years as TAA chair before Silvyn and whose mother, Katie, busted the glass ceiling for TAA chairs. “What should matter is the quality of the board members as well as the diversity. We’ve got a very diverse community and the board and chairs have begun to reflect that.”
The focus on diversity has enabled the board to handle the tremendous challenges the TAA (TUS and RYN) are facing now and will face in the coming years with more than $1.5 billion in improvement and safety projects, a constantly fluctuating air travel market, and the array of regulatory requirements.
It’s been the board room where ideas like having local food vendors in the terminal and having local artwork throughout were either born or approved.
“I love the fact we have local vendors in the airport, the art display that’s in the gallery,” Silvyn said. “All of those were discussions that we had as a board.
“A lot of what we’ve been working on the last few years has been expanding into more community partnerships, working with the city, with the county, with Sun Corridor and making sure that we’re making decisions that really help the airport and the community.”
It’s the connection to the community that matters most, Bewley said.
“I think what people generally are looking for (in TAA members) is people that really want to support the mission of the airport,” Bewley said. “These are men and women and business leaders who have full-time jobs and have made time for the airport authority, which is really special. It has been a very rewarding experience for me seeing the level of interest and involvement that that we have with our board and our members.”
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