Committee interviews five for Lafayette airport director job _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- A plane sits at the terminal of the Lafayette Regional Airport in Lafayette.

A search committee will winnow the number of candidates vying to be Lafayette Regional Airport director from five to four next week as the Lafayette Airport Commission moves toward choosing a director in January.

Committee members on Nov. 20 will eliminate one of the remaining candidates based on interviews Thursday that each lasted less than an hour. The interviews, conducted in a conference room at Stone Energy’s headquarters in Lafayette, were done using video teleconferencing. The five candidates were interviewed from their offices in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.

The five finalists were among more than 30 from across the country who applied for the job, a vacancy created by the June resignation of longtime airport Director Greg Roberts. The number was whittled to eight in mid-October, then five in late October.

“I think we did good with our five selections,” Commissioner Paul Guilbeau said. “It’s making it harder and harder for us” to eliminate candidates from consideration, he said.

Guilbeau, Tim Skinner and Valerie Gotch Garrett are commissioners who serve on the search committee along with Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux and Stone Energy Chief Executive Officer David Welch.

The five candidates still in the hunt are Jason Devillier, of Lafayette, director at the Iberia Parish Airport in New Iberia; Ralph Hennessy, of Baton Rouge, assistant director of aviation at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport; Robert Kennedy, of East Point, Georgia, vice president of consulting services for Aviation Strategies International in Georgia; Steven Picou, of Amarillo, Texas, deputy director of aviation at the Amarillo International Airport in Texas; and David Blackshear, of Lafayette, vice president of Applied Airport Technology in Maryland.

In the round of eliminations in mid-October, Devillier and Kennedy received the highest scores among those remaining.

Commissioners on Thursday debated whether, after the list is narrowed next week, one or two commissioners should travel to the offices of the candidates for the next round of interviews. That decision also could be made Nov. 20.

The director search is going on at the same time Lafayette Parish voters are pondering a Dec. 6 vote that would temporarily add a 1-cent sales tax to pay for airport improvements.

The tax, which would not be charged on food and prescription drugs, would be collected for eight months in 2015. The proceeds, an estimated $35 million, would help pay for construction of a bigger terminal at the airport and more parking.

Larry Sides, whose firm Sides & Associates is helping with the director search and tax passage, said the commission decided not to rush to have the next director in place by the time of the vote on Dec. 6.

All the remaining candidates have exhibited key traits commissioners said they value: friendliness and social grace.

“(The director) needs to be the face of the airport and the people of Lafayette,” Guilbeau said.

In an interview, Guilbeau chose not to mention the name of former Director Roberts, whose nature was prickly and confrontational. His resignation followed an incident in which he pointed a fake handgun at an engineer with whom he disagreed. Roberts’ relations with others hit other bumps during the 21 years he was director.

District Attorney Mike Harson declined to charge Roberts after the engineer at whom the fake weapon was pointed asked for the case to be dropped.