Two Cents: Baton Rouge deserves national search for airport director

If we’re learning anything from Amazon’s quest for a second corporate headquarters it’s that having a first-rate airport is not only critical when it comes to economic development, but also in our ongoing quest to become America’s next great city.

Do we have that first-rate airport now? If not, reaching that goal will likely require great leadership and innovation. Do we have that now in interim Director Ralph Hennessy, who has been with Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport for 16 years?

Some Metro Council members seem to think so, expressing a desire to move forward with the status quo and “interim leadership.” Do you agree?

The council will vote this afternoon to introduce a resolution establishing a committee to conduct a national search for former Director Anthony Marino’s replacement. This is a “no-brainer” decision: How can we know if we have the right person until we see the other candidates? Top talent is key in today’s competitive marketplace. Old ways, old models and old thinking will not suffice.

Councilman Trae Welch, a member of the airport commission, a year ago said a national search committee would be selected. We’re still waiting. Now he has flip-flopped, saying, “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?”

This is exactly the type of small town thinking that, for decades, has held us back. (Clearly we need some changes on the airport commission as well.)

Fortunately, not all on the airport commission agree, with Chairman Andrew McCandless saying he believes Hennessy should be vetted alongside other qualified candidates. He acknowledges Hennessy is a strong candidate, but rightfully adds “[the] best business practices for a public body dictate that you do a search and see who is the best candidate for the job.”

So what does the council think our airport and our citizens deserve? Allowing the good ol’ boys on the commission to reward a favored son, or seek the best candidate through a national search? For me, the choice is clear.

Tell us what you think. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

—Rolfe McCollister

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