Airport Authority lands interim airport leader

Hank Hayes • Oct 26, 2018 at 8:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE – A potential leadership vacuum was filled Thursday by Tri-Cities Airport Authority commissioners.

Commissioners promoted airport Director of Operations David Jones to deputy director effective immediately and interim executive director effective November 18 – the official last day of employment for departing Executive Director Patrick Wilson, who is leaving to lead Knoxville’s McGhee-Tyson Airport.

Jones has been down this road before, having served as interim executive director in 2013 when Wilson left for a management position at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but then returned to his old job.

Before the Airport Authority meeting, commissioners on the Administration/Operations Committee weighed various scenarios for the transition in the airport’s top job. They voted last September to hire an executive search firm to find a replacement for Wilson.

“What if whoever we hire wants to bring their own person in?” Airport Authority Commissioner Dan Mahoney of Johnson City asked.

Airport Authority Chairman Jon Smith responded: “Do we want to do something that the new executive director might find a little curious … or maybe he might not have the flexibility to hire his own team? At the same time, we have to face the fact that David is a guy who deserves (a promotion). The question is one of timing.”

“There’s a side of me who wants to see (Jones) in the candidate pool,” said Commissioner Bill Sorah, who is the city manager of Bristol, Tenn.

“If we hire a person who wants to come in and clean house, we’ve messed up,” admitted Airport Authority Vice Chairman Todd Hensley, who represents Washington County.

When asked if he will be a candidate for the executive director job, Jones said: “I’ve not made up my mind yet.”

Jones over his 12-year career at the airport has been directly involved in numerous capital projects, such as taxiways extensions, the renovation of general aviation partner Tri-Cities Aviation and Aerospace Park. He does grant writing and planning. He came to the airport after serving 11 years as Engineering and Environmental Manager for McGhee-Tyson Airport. Jones also worked in Knoxville with Vaughn and Melton Engineers and Architects.

Commissioners indicated they were impressed with Jones’ 2013 job performance as interim executive director.

“We didn’t miss a beat,” Mahoney pointed out.

Commissioners bumped Jones’ annual salary from $116,000 to $137,500 as deputy director and then to $145,000 as interim executive director.

Thursday’s meeting was the last for Wilson, who leaves after spending 22 years at the airport.

“It’s been a real pleasure to work for this board,” said Wilson, who received a framed print of the Northeast Tennessee mountains as a departing gift.

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