Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Some question Grand Junction Regional Airport (KGJT) search

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado — The Grand Junction City Council says it wants another search for a new manager for the Grand Junction Regional Airport, saying it was uncomfortable that a finalist sat on the job search committee.

After considering more than 60 applicants, the regional airport authority board decided on Ben Johnson, the airport's current operations director, The Daily Sentinel reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1p1MDMQ ).

Mayor Phyllis Norris told several airport authority board members Monday that the city council wasn't questioning Johnson's credentials — only that he sat on the committee that reviewed and turned down other applicants.

Authority board members said they would consider the city's position. They noted that Johnson hasn't been formally offered the job.

Mesa County commissioners were also briefed by the board on Monday. They had no objections to the search process.

The board will likely consider an appointment at an Aug. 19 meeting at which the public may comment, the Sentinel reported.

The national search began after Rex Tippetts, director of aviation, was fired Dec. 17 amid a federal investigation into airport business. The authority board gave no reason for Tippetts' dismissal. An attorney for Tippetts, Harry Griff, said at the time the firing was unwarranted.

The FBI only has said its investigation concerns fraud allegations. FBI agents executed search warrants at the airport's administrative offices and seized financial documents Nov. 7, and a judge has sealed that search warrant.

In May, federal officials announced they wouldn't prosecute the airport authority after the board agreed to cooperate with the probe. At the time, the U.S. Department of Justice said that a new board had made several changes, including accounting and oversight, new personnel and a hotline for whistleblowers.

The agreement covered only the authority and not employees or board members.

Board members said Monday that Johnson applied for the manager's job only after a top candidate bowed out. Search committee head Tom Frishe said that candidate withdrew apparently because he wanted to stay in his current job.

Board chairman Steve Wood said Johnson and the committee considered 64 applications, conducted interviews and brought in that one candidate for personal interviews.

Frishe said the search committee heard from job applicants that Johnson is well-regarded in the industry.

"All of them knew Ben," Frishe said. "Why are you looking outside? That was the comment" applicants made, he said.

"We know what we have now. We don't know what we have outside. I think it's a no-brainer," Frishe said. He said other candidates included officials at non-commercial airports and those with limited experience.

But Grand Junction city councilors said they'd like the position re-posted and, ideally, that a community member sit on the selection committee.

The committee included Frishe; Johnson; Dave Krogman, general manager at West Star Aviation, which provides aviation services at the airport; and Colin Fay, who used to run a flight school at the airport and now flies in Alaska. Fay participated by phone and Skype, Wood said.
Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

The Daily Sentinel, Aug. 10, on a transparent search for an airport director:

The tone-deaf Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority seems to have a hard time understanding the concept of transparency. Or maybe it just doesn't care.

Intentional or not, that's the message the board is sending. In selecting an internal candidate as the lone finalist for the vacant airport manager's job, the board has revealed a sizable blind spot in its understanding of "optics," or the way the public perceives things.
The board has undergone months of heightened scrutiny in the wake of a federal investigation that aroused serious misgivings about its oversight function and led to the dismissal of former aviation director Rex Tippetts.

As a result, the board overhauled policies, tightened internal controls and promised to be more open about the way it conducts its business.

We took that as a sign that it had learned a lesson about the importance of transparency. But the board's search for a new airport manager proves it still has a way to go.

Most local government entities publicly vet candidates for top-level administrative posts. There's no legal requirement to do this. The airport board has every right to select a new airport manager without scheduling a public listening session or a "meet the finalists" forum. 

But why wouldn't it? 

A scandal-ridden board does not restore the public's confidence in how it does its job by selecting an internal candidate as its only finalist and making no public announcement about it. The board simply posted a finalist list to its website — a bare-minimum effort to inform the public.

The board seems certain that Ben Johnson is the best man for the job. Indeed, Tom Frishe made a convincing case that he's uniquely suited to succeed here. And maybe he is; but the questionable process that led to his selection undermines that vote of confidence. 

Johnson is the current airport operations manager and was initially a member of the search committee. He quit the committee and applied for the job after a nationwide search produced no qualified candidates.

To be fair, the board hasn't made a final vote on Johnson's hiring. It has a solid record of allowing public comment, so the public still has a chance to weigh in on this matter at the board's next meeting Aug. 19.

But we think it could avoid any second-guessing by acknowledging that the national search was a bust and starting the process over. Let Johnson's understanding of airport operations speak for itself. By publicly contrasting his views with those of an outside candidate — someone who might be able to put a fresh set of eyes on the airport's biggest challenges — the board can avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Otherwise, the board leaves itself wide open to interpretation. Is Johnson a hand-picked puppet — a board yes-man in the making? If the board wants to avoid such speculation, it should change course. Transparency can avert any misperceptions.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1mGkXcb

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