Yellowstone Regional Airport is looking for a new director after signing a separation agreement with Bob Hooper.
Under the terms of the contract, Hooper will be paid the equivalent of six months salary, health insurance and vehicle reimbursement for a total of $56,476 that he will receive when he leaves.
The contract, signed on Aug. 31, said in February, “YRA, received complaints alleging that Hooper engaged in discriminatory and retaliatory conduct against employees of YRA.”
Hooper denies any misconduct or violating any airport policies.
Similarly, he was put on a semi-paid leave in June 2019 as a result of disciplinary action stemming from interactions he had with another YRA employee. This incident was not mentioned anywhere in the contract.
“The parties desire to resolve the pending issues between them and avoid any potential hearings and litigation over this matter,” the contract reads.
Under the terms of the contract, Hooper’s last day is Sept. 30. He must forgo “any and all” past, current and future legal claims against the airport.
New director search
The YRA board voted 4-3 on Friday to pay Florida-based ADK Consulting and Executive Search around $22,000 to help the airport find a new director.
“We need to have professionals look at this versus rank amateurs,” said board member Craig Wilbur at a Sept. 9 meeting. “I’m a firm believer you get what you pay for.”
YRA board members Heidi Rasmussen, Jordan Jolley and Doug Johnston voted against the move, favoring a slower, more measured search.
There was also a “full-service search” package being considered for about $16,000 more than the “HR assist” program that was chosen. Hall said the company projected a 4-6 week hiring timeline, but could only guarantee that for the full-service search.
At a Sept. 9 meeting, the board voted 3-1 against approving the HR assist package immediately. Instead, the board agreed to spend the next nine days searching for other hiring firms, consulting with other Wyoming airports and exploring other options like having a local committee do the search.
“I’m not really excited about making a rash decision,” Rasmussen said.
But a few board members later acknowledged the time commitment doing such a search internally would involve, in addition to inevitable expenses encumbered like candidate travel fees and the chosen director’s moving expenses.
“If we had no money we could probably do it ourselves. I’d like to take the probably out of it,” YRA Board Chairman Bucky Hall said.
Hall did end up accepting the delay but expressed urgency in finding a director.
“I don’t want to kick the can down the road another day let alone another month,” he said.
A few members of the YRA staff communicated they could easily carry on running the airport for months without a director in charge. Bruce Ransom, airport operations manager, said the airport “ran without a hitch” in Hooper’s period of absence during the busy summer season last year. Rasmussen and Johnston expressed confidence in this perspective.
“We’re going into the slow season. I don’t think that it’s a 9-1-1 as the board is aware,” Rasmussen said.
Johnston also thought it more appropriate to wait until 2021 when new people may be joining the board.
Bob Redmond, YRA board member, suggested retaining Hooper until the new director could start their duties. Rasmussen and a few others opposed this idea.
“That bridge is crossed and burned,” she said.
Can nudged down the road
Nine days later Rasmussen returned having talked with five companies that expressed confidence they could help find a director and said she got input from every Wyoming airport director on the topic.
She said the Cheyenne and Gillette airport directors communicated cheaper options could be found than what ADK was offering.
According to its website, ADK was founded in 2003, and specializes in senior management and executive level searches in the aviation and aerospace industries. The board discovered ADK upon Hooper’s recommendation for the company.
Despite the approval, there will still be a community-based committee formed to help provide input on who it would like to see as new director.
“ADK works for us,” said board member Jack Way. “This isn’t something that’s all of a sudden out of our hands.”
Hooper said the board will be looking to pay a similar wage to the $97,884 per year he was making, but Way said there is no pay range determined at this time.
“I suspect that (current salary) may be an issue,” Hall said.
ADK has performed searches at Cheyenne and Jackson’s airports and helped the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport in Rock Springs find its airport director in 2015. That individual made $82,500 in 2017, but Hooper said they were also given a free house to live in.
The YRA board will still be the final deciding party on the decision. Hall said current staff members are welcome to apply for the position and Ransom said he is interested in doing so.