Thursday, September 7, 2017

Metro Council resolution calls for national search for new airport director: Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport (KBTR), Louisiana

Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg will attempt to introduce a resolution at next week’s meeting that would establish a committee to conduct a national search for a new airport director.

But Freiberg acknowledges she faces an uphill battle, and says based on the push back she has received since calling last month for a national search to fill the position, she’s not sure she’ll even have enough votes to introduce the measure, much less get it passed.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who want to keep (interim director) Ralph (Hennessy) in the position permanently,” Freiberg says.

It’s been more than 10 months since former Airport Director Anthony Marino retired after 41 years at the Baton Rouge Airport, more than 20 of which he served at the helm. Hennessy, who served under Marino for 15 years as assistant director, was tapped to replace him on an interim basis and has remained in the position ever since.

In August, Metro Councilmember Trae Welch, who serves on the Airport Commission, said he believes Hennessy should be permanently named to the position, even though earlier this year the council member said he would call for a national search for a new director.

“A search is supposed to find somebody who is doing the job somewhere else,” Welch said last month. “We’ve had a 16-year search with Ralph under Anthony. We’ve seen what he is able to do. Why do we need a search for someone who isn’t from here?”

The issue is not that Hennessy hasn’t done a good job, Freiberg says. The regional airport, she says, continues to suffer from a lack of commercial air service and it’s worth investing a little time and money to see if an outside candidate has some new ideas about attracting more direct flights.

“Maybe there’s not anything else we can do,” she says. “Maybe Ralph is doing everything there is to do. But how will we know if we don’t look around and ask questions?”

Several members of the Metro Council, which serves as the Airport Authority in Baton Rouge and has power over the advisory Airport Commission, were noncommittal today, but say they’d like to have a discussion on the matter.

“I think it’s time for us to either find a director or to go ahead and take the interim off of his title,” says Councilman Buddy Amoroso. “So I’m glad she put it on the agenda.”

Adds Dwight Hudson: “I’m not sure where I’m at on the matter. There are good arguments on both sides.”

Freiberg’s resolution will be introduced at the Sept. 13 Metro Council meeting. If the Council agrees to place it on the agenda, it will come up for debate at the Sept. 27 meeting.

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