Wednesday, October 29, 2014

City fires airport director: Santa Fe Municipal (KSAF), New Mexico

The city abruptly fired the Santa Fe Municipal Airport manager Tuesday with no explanation.

City officials announced the termination of Frances “Francey” Jesson in a news release issued at 12:52 p.m.

Jesson, who had run the city airport since April 2013, did not return a message seeking comment, and city officials declined to discuss the firing, saying it was a personnel matter. But at 4:07 p.m., the city released a police report that shows Jesson was kicked out of a hotel in Ruidoso six weeks ago after police said she trashed the hotel’s gift shop while attending a conference on behalf of the city.

The report was released in response to a public records request filed by The New Mexican after the city announced Jesson’s firing. The request sought all communications between Jesson and city officials over the last two months.

Jesson’s attorney, Steven Farber, blasted the the city’s release of the document, saying it acted in “bad faith” by releasing “police incident records that did not lead to any charges or arrest.”

“Francey Jesson has been a valuable employee as the airport manager and she attempted to remedy gross mismanagement and financial irregularities that she discovered while working as the airport manager,” Farber said in an email to The New Mexican.

Jesson’s relationship with City Hall had been strained dating to the prior administration, when she pointed out that operators of the airport restaurant, a partnership that includes politically connected union boss Jon Hendry, were months behind in rent and had been miscalculating their rent payments since 2010. Then-Mayor David Coss told Jesson to go easy on them, Jesson told The New Mexican in a January story. Hendry has long and close political ties to both Coss and his successor, Mayor Javier Gonzales.

City Manager Brian Snyder gave Jesson the option to resign in lieu of termination, according to a memo provided by Farber. But the city announced her termination before Snyder’s 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline, Farber said.

“This conduct of the City of Santa Fe was clearly an act of bad faith and improperly motivated to harm Francey Jesson,” Farber, a former city councilor, said in an email.

But city spokesman Matt Ross offered a different version of events. He confirmed that Snyder gave Jesson the opportunity to resign but said Jesson rejected the offer.

“Therefore, her termination was effective immediately,” Ross said. “She was informed of that in the meeting, and she was walked through the termination procedure by the director of human resources and escorted from the building.”

Farber said Ross was being misleading.

“The City Manager’s letter speaks for itself,” he said in a separate email.

“Francey Jesson was in a state of shock when she was handed the letter from City Manager Brian Snyder,” Farber said. “It was only after that encounter that Francey Jesson had time to reflect upon that interaction and the contents of the letter from the City Manager which clearly gave her the option to resign up to 5:00 PM today and the letter specifically stated that she could send in a written letter of resignation by email. The City issued a press release announcing that Francey Jesson had been terminated at 12:52 PM and is attempting to cover up its mishandling of this employment matter by making up facts and releasing protected information.”

Farber called the police incident report “confidential and protected.”

“One can only hope that in the future the city will be so speedy and forthcoming in responding to record requests made by citizens and the media,” Farber said.

According to the police report, Ruidoso police were dispatched to The Lodge at Sierra Blanca just after midnight Sept. 12 following a report of trouble with a female guest.

When the officer arrived, the officer found clothing and other items “strewn around the floor near the front desk,” the report states.

The front desk clerk told the officer that a female guest later identified as Jesson was “upset” and “started grabbing merchandise off the display shelves in the hotel gift shop and throwing them on the floor.”

The clerk said he wanted the woman removed from the hotel.

The officer encountered Jesson in a hallway and asked if she was the one who threw items on the floor in the hotel gift shop. Jesson accepted blame, the report states.

“Jesson appeared to be intoxicated. She was verbally abusive and loud,” the report states.

Jesson, who was on city business in Ruidoso attending a conference, told the officer that she had gone to the front desk to report that her iPad was missing from her room, the report states.

“Jesson said that no one was manning the front desk when she went there, and no one was responding to her calls for service,” the report states. “Jesson related that after no one came to the front desk, she got upset and decided to start ‘stealing …’ to get their attention.”

When the officer told Jesson that the hotel wanted her to leave, police said she went to her room and gathered her belongings reluctantly.

“She was verbally abusive, saying things like, ‘Shut the hell up!’ ” the report states.

Police checked the room to look for Jesson’s iPad and other belongings she later discovered were missing, but they didn’t find the items.

One of the officers discovered that the patio door of her hotel room had been left unlocked.

“Jesson related that she did leave the patio door unlocked,” the report states. “The suspect(s) may have used this as their entry and exit point.”

Jesson’s room was on the first floor, police said.

“The suspect(s) could have climbed over the wall with little effort,” the report states.

Jesson came to Santa Fe with more than 20 years of airport operations and maintenance experience.

In addition to serving as director of operations and maintenance for the Roanoke Regional Airport in Virginia, she previously worked in airport management positions at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Aspen, Colo., McAllen Miller International Airport in McAllen, Texas; American Airports Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.; and in airport operations for San Francisco International Airport, and at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

The Santa Fe Municipal Airport is home to nearly 200 general aviation aircraft and 11 military planes and helicopters, according to the city’s website. The airport also is served by scheduled regional airline flights. Last month, Jesson predicted the airport would have a record 142,000 passengers in 2014 after dropping to a low of 685 passengers in 2008.

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