It’s been 677 days since the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport has had a permanent director, only one finalist for the position remains, and yet the East Baton Rouge Metro Council still cannot agree on who should fill the job.
Council members lamented Wednesday that the drawn-out process — which has led to multiple candidates withdrawing during the lag — has been shameful for Baton Rouge, after the city-parish appropriated $40,000 for a firm to conduct a national search. Council members were poised earlier this month to choose between two finalists that a search committee recommended, Derek Martin and Austin Futch. A third finalist suggested by the committee withdrew.
But council members deadlocked on choosing between Martin and Futch at the Aug. 8 meeting and put off the vote. Martin has since been hired as executive director of the Erie International Airport.
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That leaves Baton Rouge council members with only one finalist, Futch, who is an executive at a private company that manages the south terminal of the airport in Austin, Texas. Futch was the search committee’s most recommended candidate during a July interview, and earned a unanimous committee recommendation.
“If you see the circus going on here, it’s embarrassing to this community,” Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson said during Wednesday's meeting.
A number of council members said Wednesday they needed to regroup over the search and potentially vet other candidates. When Wilson asked the body to appoint Futch to the position, he earned votes from just four of the eight council members present: Wilson, Dwight Hudson, Tara Wicker and Barbara Freiberg.
Futch would have needed seven votes to be appointed.
Council members Denise Amoroso and LaMont Cole voted against him, while Chauna Banks and Donna Collins-Lewis did not vote. Council members Chandler Loupe, Erika Green, Matt Watson and Trae Welch were not present.
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Wilson accused council members of simply not wanting to appoint Futch to the position because Futch is white, while Banks accused council members two weeks ago of refusing to appoint Martin because Martin is black.
Wilson said the search process has been a joke, and it seems to have been tainted by outside influences. Banks said the process has been humiliating for Baton Rouge, but she questioned whether Futch has the necessary management credentials to run the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.
She said she wants the Metro Council to reconsider appointing Interim Director Mike Edwards, noting she has heard that airport staff morale is improved since he took over the role. Edwards applied for the permanent position, but the search committee agreed in July that he did not have enough experience for the permanently appointment.
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Edwards is the second interim in the role, after former interim director Ralph Hennessy fled several months ago for a private sector job amid the snail’s pace search. Some Metro Council members wanted to appoint Hennessy all along but received resistance from others who said a national search was a best practice.
It’s unclear when the Metro Council will take up the airport position director again, because a council member will have to add the consideration to an agenda.
In other news, poets, musicians and other artists told the council Wednesday that Baton Rouge’s burgeoning arts scene has outgrown its space in an old firehouse and that upcoming artists in the Capital City deserve more space to pursue their crafts.
The council agreed to allow the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge to move into a building that used to house district attorney offices. The council approved an agreement between City Hall and the Arts Council for the group to take over the space known as “the triangle building” at 233 St. Ferdinand St.
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“I hope we can find it in our hearts today to show young artists that we value the arts now more than we did in the past,” said Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore, director of Forward Arts and a well-known slam poet.
Under the agreement, the Arts Council will be responsible for renovations to the triangle building while the city-parish will maintain the location. The Arts Council will not pay rent. The group is currently based at the Robert A. Bogan Baton Rouge Fire Museum on Laurel Street.
The Metro Council also voted to rename an Emergency Medical Services station on Old Hammond Highway near its intersection with Millerville Road in honor of late councilman Buddy Amoroso.