The Metro Council is no stranger to controversy, but the highly charged search for a new airport director was one for the books. Top executives at Baton Rouge Metro Airport threw their hats in the ring, candidates from around the country flew in, and nearly all of them dropped out after the political infighting and sluggish pace that ensued.
The position is appointed by the council. But council members had competing interests about what the future could hold for the airport, which has seen passenger numbers decrease but also owns prime property that could provide an economic boost to north Baton Rouge.
Here’s how the city’s leadership finally broke through the turbulence to put a director at the helm of BTR again.
SEPTEMBER 2016: Airport director Anthony Marino announces his resignation after 21 years.
JANUARY 2017: Marino’s tenure ends. Assistant aviation director Ralph Hennessy, who has been with the airport for a decade, becomes interim director.
NOVEMBER 2017: While council member Trae Welch campaigned to give Hennessy the job, the council instead approves the creation of a search committee. Council member Barbara Freiberg says while Hennessy might be a top choice, a national search would help make the airport competitive.
FEB. 28, 2018: After weeks of quarreling, the council votes to spend $40,000 for a headhunting firm to assist the search.
APRIL 20: Hennessy announces he’s taken another job. He expresses frustration at the search’s slow progress. Mike Edwards, the airport’s operations manager, steps in as interim director.
JUNE 19: The search committee zeroes in on five finalists, including Edwards.
JULY 9: They go before the search committee to pitch their ideas. David “Austin” Futch, Derek Martin and Don Green are sent on to the council for a final vote. Committee members thought Edwards and another candidate, Jason Wilson, didn’t have enough experience.
JULY 25: During a chaotic council meeting, members express confusion over the process. Freiberg calls for a vote to hire Futch, who works for an aeronautical firm in Austin. Council member Chauna Banks calls for a vote to hire Martin, an airport executive in Detroit. Neither garners enough support and the council defers a final vote.
JULY 26: Green withdraws his name.
AUG. 8: The council deadlocks again on a final vote and decides to postpone.
AUG. 16: Martin withdraws after accepting another job. “It came to the point where it didn’t seem like they wanted to make a decision,” he tells Business Report.
AUG. 22: At another meeting, the council still can’t get enough votes to appoint Futch, the only remaining finalist. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson accuses members of rejecting Futch because he is white. Previously, Banks accused members of rejecting Martin because he is black.
SEPT. 28: Futch withdraws his name. He tells Business Report “it seemed there was some undue political influences involved, and I don’t subscribe to that. My passion is aviation, not politics.”
OCT. 10: Edwards’ name is still in the running. But in another stalemate, the council declines to appoint him. During angry public comments, speakers call the council “incompetent.”
NOV. 14: Council members weigh three options: Appoint Edwards, spend one more month soliciting resumes, or start over. The council ultimately votes to give Edwards the job, with only two votes against. “I look forward to the challenge of further developing BTR as an engine for economic development in our community,” Edwards says in a statement.
Source: News reports and flybtr.com
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.