Thursday, February 15, 2007
Airport job security vote stalls
Peninsula: Proposal affects general manager, legal counsel
By LAITH AGHA
The Monterey County (CA) Herald
Facing strong public opposition and a split among board members, Monterey Peninsula Airport District directors delayed a decision Wednesday on whether to increase job security for the airport general manager and legal counsel. Current district law requires three of the five directors to vote to dismiss the general manager or legal counsel. Directors are considering a proposed ordinance to increase that to a “super-majority” of four votes. Director Robert DeVoe said making the change would be a vote of confidence for General Manager Tom Greer and District Counsel David Willoughby.
“We’ve made the general manager’s job here at the airport very difficult,” DeVoe said. “I don’t see it changing how we’ve done it in the past. It just outlines these things more clearly.”
The proposal on the table also would add detail to existing airport law that forbids directors from interfering with the general manager’s duties and other day-to-day operations.
Willoughby said the district might be well-served if its counsel and general manager had more job stability.
“It would allow us more freedom to tell the board things it doesn’t necessarily want to hear,” Willoughby said. “Super-majority requirements are not at all uncommon in the state, or even nationally.”
Directors Dana Petrak and Richard Searle saw the proposed ordinance differently.
They said it would inhibit their ability to function as directors, and would give Greer and Willoughby too much protection from being fired.
“I did not get elected so that I could have my hands tied,” Searle said. “I represent not only the people who work here, but the people who voted for me.”
Several members of the public opposed the proposal, saying it would diminish the board’s authority and unnecessarily give the general manager and district counsel more job security.
“Should you vote for (it),… you will have forsaken your constituency by abdicating your duties,” said Dan Presser, a Carmel travel agent who ran for the airport board last year.
Some expressed concern about board Chairman Leonard McIntosh voting on the matter because Willoughby is his personal attorney. Former airport Director Ron Phoebus said McIntosh should recuse himself from the vote.
Willoughby said there is no legal basis for such a move because McIntosh would not benefit — financially or otherwise — from his job security.
Phoebus responded that if McIntosh were to vote in favor of the ordinance, it would create a perception of favoritism and a possible “tit-for-tat” arrangement between McIntosh and Willoughby.
DeVoe made a motion to approve the ordinance, but withdrew it after hearing the public comments.
Director Carl Miller, who was elected in November, appeared to be in the position of being the possible swing vote.
Miller said he didn’t see anything in the proposal that would prevent board members from directing the general manager. But he wanted changes made in the proposal.
Current district law makes director interference with the general manager or his subordinates a misdemeanor. But it does not clearly state the possible punishment for violations, Willoughby said. Misdemeanors are punishable by fines up to $500 and up to six months in jail.
“I’m not concerned about the punishment,” DeVoe said. “If we as a board are acting correctly,… then we still have the ability to do our jobs.”
In the end, directors said the proposed ordinance needed revision. They ordered it to be posted on the district’s Web site for public review and comment. They didn’t set a date to revisit the issue.