Airport officials want Wilson to return to old job

Hank Hayes • Jul 8, 2013 at 10:08 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Regional Airport wants to bring back Patrick Wilson as the airport’s executive director.

Airport Authority commissioners on a search committee directed TCRA Authority Chairman James Rector on Monday to negotiate with Wilson, who left earlier this year to take a deputy director’s position at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The Airport Authority Commission is scheduled to consider Wilson’s re-employment at a July 25 called meeting.

“(Wilson) could return to work if the full commission would empower him no later than September 1 and probably before at the same salary (about $139,000) and benefits when he left,” Rector, who represents Bristol, Va., told the search committee.

Florida-based ADK Executive Search, which recruited Wilson for the North Carolina job, had been hired by the TCRA Authority to find replacement candidates.

Interim TCRA Executive Director David Jones, who has served the airport as director of operations, had also taken himself out of the running for the full-time leadership post.

Rector canceled interviews with three unidentified finalists for the executive director’s position after being contacted by Wilson.

Authority Commissioner Ken Maness of Kingsport, who served as chairman under the former Airport Commission governing structure, called Wilson “one of the best public servants” he’s ever dealt with.

“He deals well with people above him and below him,” Maness said of Wilson. “He deals with staff well. He deals with the community well. He’s just a great package. ... I suspected we would have difficulty finding someone to replace Patrick who would be as good as Patrick.”

The other executive director finalist candidates, Maness added, appeared “unproven” and warned TCRA might be “running the risk of them not having all the right stuff.”

Authority Commissioner Frank Anderson of Johnson City also expressed disappointment with the finalists, but noted he could not support Wilson returning at his old salary in his first year of re-employment.

“It’s not that we’re trying to punish him ... and I think he would be the first to tell you he made a mistake,” Anderson said of Wilson. “He’s not happy in the position he’s in now. ... We went to a lot of expense — $35,000 — to engage a search firm.”

Maness responded: “If we recognize he’s better suited for the job than any of the other applicants, I think it would be a bad sign to suggest we pay him less ... than what we were paying him before. ... My interest is recruiting Patrick to come back, not just giving him a chance to come back.”

Authority Commissioner Joe Wilson of Washington County said he “sort of felt like” Anderson.

“I do not believe Patrick used us as a stepping stone ... to go over there and come back,” Wilson told the committee.

“He thought he was going to be happy ... (but) he thinks the Tri-Cities area is a better place to raise his family.”

Airport tenant Rod Monroe suggested TCRA needs a leader with fresh ideas.

“The number of passengers (using TCRA) is down,” said Monroe, who runs a ground transportation business.

Authority Commissioner Bill Sorah of Bristol, Tenn., backed Maness.

“I would not cut (Wilson’s) salary to bring him back. ... I wouldn’t worry too much about the $35,000. ... It’s just my opinion,” Sorah said.

In the end, Rector was authorized to be the point man on bringing Wilson back, although the committee agreed he won’t be eligible for a two percent merit pay increase given to TCRA employees this year.

Wilson has more that 20 years of management experience in the airport industry, including the last eight years as TCRA executive director.

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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