Ralph Hennessy surprised many with the announcement this morning he will step down in May as interim director of the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, a position he has held since last January.
But Hennessy says he’s not leaving to work for a private firm due to frustration with the slow pace of progress a Metro Council-based committee is making in its national search for a permanent aviation director.
Rather, Hennessy says he was approached by a headhunter about the position and ultimately was given an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“The length of time (the committee is taking) is frustrating,” he acknowledges. “But that’s not why I’m leaving. To be honest, I wasn’t looking for anything, but they contacted me and we started talking and at some point they made me an offer I could not pass up.”
Hennessy declines to identify the firm until it makes his hiring official through a public announcement early next week. But he describes it as a national engineering and consulting firm with an aviation services division that he will head up from its Baton Rouge office.
Hennessy says the timing of the offer was particularly advantageous for him because on March 30, his birthday, he was eligible to retire from the airport with 25 years of service and receive a pension equal to between 70% and 75% of his salary.
Hennessy worked at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport before coming to the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport under longtime former director Anthony Marino. He says the contributions he paid into the New Orleans retirement system for his years of service there will transfer to Baton Rouge, and that together they total 25 years.
“The stars were really in alignment for me on this,” he says. “The good Lord had a plan for me.”
Hennessy’s turn of fortune comes after nearly 18 months of being stuck in a holding pattern. Once considered to be Marino’s handpicked successor, Hennessy’s tenure at the airport came into question last fall when Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg successfully pushed for a national search to replace Marino.
Freiberg and others argued it was important to consider outsiders who might have fresh ideas about how to bring more nonstop air service to the regional airport, even though Hennessy was always considered to be among those who would interview for the position.
Today, Freiberg says she’s disappointed Hennessy is leaving at this time. But she adds, “I certainly thank him for his service, particularly in light of how long his position has been interim and all the uncertainty he had to deal with.”
Metro Councilman Trae Welch, who was an advocate of Hennessy and, at one point, tried unsuccessfully to appoint him to the position permanently, says Hennessy would have been the best choice for director.
“He should have at least been given the opportunity,” Welch says.