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Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- An egret scours the shoreline of a pond boasting the airport code of 'BTR' at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Baton Rouge officials have boosted the pay for the next airport leader and are closing in on hiring a search firm to help fill the role.

This week, the Metro Council bumped pay for the job, officially known as the parish director of aviation, from a range of $78,000 to $129,000 to a new range of between $90,000 and $149,000. Authorities hope the raise will make the job more attractive to potential candidates.

During a Friday afternoon meeting of the search committee, parish leaders whittled a list of eight executive staffing search firms down to two, which they will invite to talk in person or by video conference on Thursday around 11 a.m.

Several local search firms applied, but committee members including Cleve Dunn Jr. and Barbara Freiberg said they wanted to consider people with specific experience in the aviation field. ACS Professional Staffing of Washington state and Florida-based ADK Consulting and Executive Search will have opportunities to pitch their proposals next week.

The two have proposed comparable rates of around $35,000, search committee members said. ADK appears to have more experience than ACS, although its history includes a couple searches that weren't carried through to completion or that resulted in a hire that didn't work out, the committee members remarked. However, both firms appear to be strong contenders, they said.

Whoever gets the job needs to make sure candidates understand that, unlike in many other states, Louisiana applications for government jobs are a matter of public record, airport commissioner Jim Ellis said.

Freiberg said she also wants to ask the search firms how they handle background checks. City-parish lawyers said that to get clearance with the federal Transportation Security Administration, any new employee already faces undergoing an extensive criminal background check.

"It's very rigorous," Ellis said.

The airport director position has technically been open since former head Anthony Marino stepped down in September 2016. Ralph Hennessy, who had been Marino's second-in-command, has been leading the airport since that time on an interim basis.

Several Metro Council members have backed him to take over the reins permanently, though they ultimately decided to open up a national search to see what other aviation professionals may have to offer.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.