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Freiberg disappointed, but airport director search process exposes Metro Council divide

Metro Council member Barbara Freiberg says she is surprised and disappointed that after a year-long national search for a new airport director, which produced three qualified candidates, her fellow council members voted Wednesday to offer the position to interim director Mike Edwards.

Edwards interviewed for the position earlier this year but was not among the short list of finalists recommended to the council by its own search committee.

Freiberg had been pushing the council to reopen the national search on a limited basis.

“Our national consultant with ADK told me he’s never been in a situation where there is a national search and a search committee accepts your recommendation and then it’s rejected,” Freiberg says.

Freiberg is particularly disappointed that the $40,000 search, which was conducted for several months in late 2017 and early 2018, was mischaracterized by her fellow council members. At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilmember Scott Wilson referred to the search process “as a joke.”

“The search process was not a joke,” she says. “It was very well handled by the search committee. It was the Metro Council that couldn’t make a decision.”

In June, the search committee recommended three finalists for the position but one dropped out immediately. That left two candidates—one white, one black—which stalled a vote on the issue along racial lines. Eventually, both candidates removed their names from consideration, leaving the council with an interim director who, just months earlier, was not considered qualified enough for the position to be recommended as a finalist.

Search committee chairman Jim Ellis could not be reached for comment this morning. But Metro Council member Trae Welch, who also served on the search committee and is the Metro Council representative on the airport commission, says even if the council had voted with Freiberg Wednesday to reopen a national search, it likely would not have produced any new candidates, given the year-long and controversial process to date.

“We did a national search and I think the thinking was to reopen it for an incredibly short time would not have been very productive,” he says. “Plus, Mike has done a good job during his time at the airport and has the ability to move forward.”

The argument for a national search from Freiberg and others in the business community was that the Baton Rouge airport, which chronically loses passengers to New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport, could benefit from a leader with outside experience in attracting more direct, nonstop air service to a regional market.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which also supported the national search for a director, did not respond to a request seeking comment on the council’s decision.

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