A firefighting helicopter that is helping combat a large wildfire in Jackson County takes off from the Steamboat Springs Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
Steamboat Springs Airport Manager Adam Kittinger was fired earlier this month after a short and sometimes turbulent tenure up at Bob Adams Field.
Saying it was a personnel issue that deserved privacy, City Manager Gary Suiter and Public Works Director Chuck Anderson declined to comment this week on the reasons behind Kittinger's dismissal.
Kittinger was employed by the city for a little less than one year.
The firing means the city will have to recruit its third airport manager in less than three years.
Emails obtained last week by Steamboat Today through an open records request show recent friction between Kittinger and Anderson regarding airport operations and oversight.
The communications also reveal broader oversight issues at the city-owned airport.
These issues include concerns about safety procedures not being followed by airport employees, an invoice for fuel filter parts that was nearly a year past due, a persistent jet fume issue at SmartWool headquarters that has cost the city tens of thousands of dollars and concerns about unsanctioned handshake deals used to set hangar rental rates.
Kittinger felt, at times, he had too many responsibilities to tackle all at once and had to prioritize his directives, the emails show.
He also questioned why oversight issues for which he said he took heat at the airport had not been addressed by Anderson through the years.
Inconsistent charges for hangar rentals was a particular point of contention between Kittinger and Anderson, the emails show.
Some pilots appear to have been given discounted rental rates that strayed significantly from the fee schedule that is approved by the city manager.
In one instance, a pilot of a single-engine piston plane was charged $1,065 for a 45-day stay under a monthly summer rate Kittinger found didn't exist on the city's books.
Under the city's official rate structure, approved by the city manager, the pilot would have been charged $4,575 for the same stay.
“It's another one of those “handshake deals” that has been made out here at the airport,” Kittinger wrote to Anderson when confronted about the discrepancy and other inconsistent charges for hangar rentals.
Anderson then asked Kittinger what he was doing to make employees accountable for the inconsistent fees being charged without manager approval.
He said it appeared Kittinger was not holding employees accountable.
“As we have discussed previously, fees are set by the City Manager, and any authority to add/change/delete lies with the City Manager, not me nor you or airport employees,” Anderson wrote.
Kittinger defended himself and the decision, suggesting the city would have lost revenue had it not offered the pilot a discount.
“It is a culture that has been ALLOWED by the city for MANY years, no one has EVER questioned it or taken steps to correct it except for me since I have taken over management and brought this to light,” Kittinger wrote to Anderson in a March 10 email about the inconsistent hangar fees. “So this is something that is engrained in the fabric of this airport that MUST change.”
Kittinger claimed he was unfairly taking heat from Anderson for the hangar rental deals, some of which were made prior to Kittinger's tenure at the airport or only days after he started.
He questioned why Anderson did not address the issue when he served as acting airport manager for several months.
Later in the day, Kittinger sent an email to all airport employees saying he had been tasked with resolving the issue and that no employee should deviate from the fee structure approved by the city manager.
In another communication, he expressed concern about a .25 cent fuel discount that was being offered to local pilots, despite there being no written policy mandating it.
In addition, Kittinger had expressed a desire to have more autonomy as airport manager.
“This is a very customer service based operation and I'm confident that my guys do the best they can with what they have to make money for the city and send people back in to the skies wanting to come back to SBS and our town,” Kittinger wrote to Anderson.
Even after the tense email exchange regarding the inconsistent hangar rental fees, a $1,600 discount was approved by city administration for a pilot Kittinger feared would not stay at Bob Adams and generate "bad publicity" if he had to pay the fee approved in the city's budget book.
Anderson declined to comment Monday on the hangar rate issue, saying it was a “personnel matter.”
Looking for consistency
Suiter said the hangar rental issue concerns him and is being looked at.
“I think we should have a rental fee schedule and stick with it,” Suiter said. “We need to ensure consistency across the board.”
Suiter said at previous cities he has managed, it was not uncommon to see inconsistent long-term hangar leases, but not as common to see such inconsistency in short-term hangar rental prices.
Suiter said he plans to take a look at the city's hangar rental rates and compare them to other airports in the region.
“Have we addressed this to my satisfaction at Bob Adams Airport? No,” Suiter said. “I think there needs to be some analysis done. We need to look at what the other markets are.”
While revenue generated from the short-term rentals accounts for a small percentage of the budget, the revenue has been increasing in recent years, as demand has gone up in an improving economy.
Safety concerns raised
Emails also show Kittinger was concerned about safety procedures not being consistently followed at the airport.
“They have always been present, but have not been consistently followed or enforced,” Kittinger wrote of the rules in an email to airport staff. “I expect, as a team, we will hold each other accountable, this includes myself.”
The email outlined several safety rules, including the need to wear high-visibility vests on the airfield.
Asked about the safety concerns Kittinger raised, Anderson said Monday it wasn't a longstanding issue and had come up more recently.
Jet fumes issue persists
Kittinger also had to devote time to resolving a years-long issue of jet fume odors entering the SmartWool headquarters on the airport property.
He called the complaints “quite frivolous and constant.”
In April, a Smart Wool employee complained to the city about a pilot who confronted employees inside the sock company's headquarters after he was told by airport staff to not hang around while taxiing on the runway due to complaints about fumes at SmartWool.
“We have spent thousands of dollars to upgrade their air filtration systems and just recently changed our normal way of parking to try and accommodate them and be sensitive to their concerns,” Kittinger wrote to Anderson. “I don't see much more that we can do short of sealing off their windows with concrete or a blast wall.”
Anderson noted a particular SmartWool employee was often the complainant and questioned whether it was her location in the building that led to her being impacted more often, or if she was “just a chronic complainer.”
According to a records request submitted Monday by Steamboat Today, the city has spent $71,000 mitigating the jet fumes issue at SmartWool, which is leasing the old terminal building at the airport.
Another email chain shows that concerns were raised after it was discovered in May an invoice for fuel filters for a truck at the airport went unpaid for 10 months.
Anderson asked Kittinger to research why the bill hadn't been paid and find out “who dropped the ball.”
Asked Monday about the resolution to the incident and whether any late fees had resulted, Anderson said he could not recall the overdue invoice.
Anderson on Monday described his management style and oversight of the airport as empowering, saying he had given the manager autonomy.
“My communication is up, down and lateral," Anderson said. “Everyone is given opportunities to succeed.”
From 2013 to present, the city's last three airport managers have departed or been terminated under Anderson.
Anderson called the airport a “diamond in the rough.”
The airport does not stand on its own, financially, and has, in recent years, required transfers from the city's general fund in amounts ranging from about $100,000 to $200,000.
Some of the deficit at the airport is due to the fact the city is still making payments on an overhaul to the FBO at the airport.
“It's got a lot of potential, and it's got a very strong support structure from the community,” Anderson said of the city's airport. “It's an economic engine for the community.”
Due to recent turnover in the position, Suiter said he wants to conduct a salary survey before the next manager is hired.
Kittinger earned $79,000 per year at the time of his dismissal.
Kittinger did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday. He also declined an interview request with Steamboat Today when he was hired, saying he wasn't a "newspaper guy."
Suiter said he will be involved with hiring a new manager.
“Having done recruitment professionally, I'll want to keep a pulse on this process and make sure we get a good person in there,” Suiter said.
Original article can be found here: http://www.steamboattoday.com