Despite a squabble with airport officials and a dearth of sponsors, the Thunder Over the Valley air show organizer pledges that this year’s event will take off next month.
“We’re going to go forward,” said Mike Geddry, CEO of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, adding that he will keep chipping away at cutting expenses and lining up sponsors.
The museum is still seeking sponsors for the Aug. 22-23 event at the airport and hopes to soon secure the money from the Santa Maria Public Airport.
Last week, the airport’s divided Board of Directors agreed to give the Museum of Flight $15,000 to cover expenses related to safety, sanitation, security, insurance and first aid.
“This time there was a some strings attached,” General Manager Chris Hastert said.
The board said the financial support was contingent upon a staff-conducted audit of last year’s air show plus required the museum to have a third-party audit of the 2015 show.
But, Geddry said the amount approved by the airport falls short of the actual cost of those items, which could add up to as much as $26,000 for the 2015 event.
“What they’re going to find out is the cost of doing these things far exceeds what they give us,” Geddry said.
Geddry initially objected after the staff-conducted audit sought documents he said went beyond the district’s authority, instead of focusing only on how the museum spent the public agency’s funds.
The airport district funding is a targeted sponsorship, Geddry contends, and not a grant or loan.
After a week of exchanging emails with airport officials, Geddry said Thursday that he and staff reached an agreement on what documents could be audited.
The museum’s request came after the public airport district approved its budget and after a letter from the nonprofit organization saying the funding would not be needed this year.
He noted the museum recently underwent an Internal Revenue Service audit Geddry claims was conducted at the request of a government agency.
Geddry bristles at the implications that he or the museum misused public funds.
“Public money is not something to play with. I would not do that,” he said, adding that he welcomes the audit and that he has nothing to hide. “I think once we prove we’re right, they must apologize.”
In addition to lining up corporate sponsors, the Museum of Flight has created a Go Fund Me page to solicit donations.
Adding to the woes of small air show’s organizers is the difficulty in getting military aircraft to attend civilian air shows like Santa Maria’s. However, Geddry said he has received strong support from Vandenberg Air Force Base representatives.
Traditionally, the Santa Maria show admits military members and veterans for free.
“That’s why you don’t see huge gate receipts,” he said.
Geddry, a Vietnam War-era veteran, is insistent on keeping that tradition.
“A lot of people don’t understand my generation came home and we were treated like crap,” he said.
The air show proves that the support for veterans continues even after they have left the military.
Geddry believes the air show’s mission is greater than entertaining crowds because it is also helping veterans.
“If we can take one veteran and bring him home and get him help, then we’ve done our job,” he said.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.