Airport Commissioner Tom Schueck got a rough ride this morning at the commission’s personnel committee meeting, unable to persuade fellow commissioners that commissioners should have a say in whoever is hired as the spokesman for Little Rock National Airport.
Commissioner Jesse Mason, after Schueck made repeated objections to the commission’s stand that it was the executive director’s hire and that its role was “advice and counsel” only (“I don’t know what that means,” Schueck asserted) — said he was “disturbed” by the nearly hour-long debate, adding, “Something’s happening here that should not be happening.” That prompted a huffy response from Schueck: “I’m not going to comment on that.”
So what was happening? The most likely is this: Schueck, who supported former City Director Michael Keck for the public relations job, which Executive Director Ron Mathieu gave to gas industry spokesman Mark Raines instead, wanted to give Keck, or someone of his choosing, another chance at getting the job. Raines quit shortly after accepting the job; it’s believed that he did so because Schueck was unhappy with his hiring.
Schueck asked that the job description, which says experience working at the State Capitol or in a public relations firm would be preferred, be amended to include experience with the city, which he said was more important. Schueck also said a local person should be given preference, saying a national search was “a waste of time.” “It ought to stay local and it should be the commission’s hire as well as Ron’s, since [the hire] will be spokesman for both. Our suggestion should be considered. This is how I was hopeful … the way I’d change from last time.”
Schueck got no support from the rest of the committee — commission chair Virgil Miller; Mason, former mayor Jim Dailey or committee chair Kay Kelley Arnold. Miller said the hire would be confused who his boss was, the commission or the executive director. “I want them to know they report to the executive director,” he said, and not in “any form or fashion” to the commission.
Schueck expressed bewilderment at the commission’s position. “This position is the mouthpiece of the airport and the commission. If he speaks for me I want to know who he is and what he’s going to say. … I find it strange that the rest of the commission is going to hand this over. It’s unacceptable to me.” He paused, then added, “Sometimes I’m a lot smarter than you guys are.”
Mathieu and the commission’s attorney also said it would be illegal to restrict applicants to a local pool, saying it would jeopardize the airport’s eligibility for federal grants. Schueck said he disagreed with the attorney, adding, “I believe we can say [local experience] will be looked upon favorably,” though it’s unclear how that position departed from counsel’s.
Mathieu won another point too: Schueck wanted the application process started over. Mathieu said he’d like to review four or five applications that came in after the original deadline, and look over the other applicants, whom Arnold described as “brave souls.” After the meeting, Mathieu said a few of the late applications came after Raines’ resignation. He declined to say whether he was enthusiastic about a particular late application. Mathieu said he should have a list by Monday of new finalists for the job. The pay range for the job: $90,560 to $135,838. Raines was hired in at $125,000.