Airport board’s action sends wrong message
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 slection 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.