County makes offer to airports director candidate

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 17, 2013 

Judy Elder of airport consulting firm Talbert & Bright gives an update to the Beaufort County Airport Board on Oct. 17, 2013, on projects planned for the Hilton Head Island Airport.

STAFF PHOTO

Beaufort County officials say they hope to hire a new airports director by next week, ending an 11-month search to fill the position.

Director of engineering Rob McFee -- who has filled in during the interim along with deputy county administrator Bryan Hill -- told the Beaufort County Airports Board at its Thursday meeting the county made an offer to a candidate this week.

McFee would not identify the candidate, stating it was a confidential personnel matter, and referred questions to county administrator Gary Kubic.

Kubic, reached by phone, also would not identify the candidate, who he said has until next week to respond to the offer. Should he or she accept, Kubic said he'll notify County Council of his selection.

"I'm working on the problem and I'm not guaranteeing a hire will be made, but we're getting there," he said Thursday.

Kubic said about six people applied for the position -- which oversees daily operations at the Hilton Head Island Airport and the Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island. He said the county had difficulty recruiting applicants because of the inability to offer a competitive salary and less-than-favorable appeal of "two little airports" in close proximity to neighborhoods.

So Kubic focused on candidates with project-management experience, as opposed to aviation experience.

"In the past, we had pilots being managers ... but there are more pressing issues we are facing and that's managing the public's money, making sure the projects can be delivered, and coordinating moving parts with the state and federal governments," Kubic said. "And we found an individual I believe will be an asset and can deliver on those projects."

Paul Andres resigned in November after a "difference of opinion" with Kubic, Kubic said last year.

Several Airports Board members said not having a director left them with no "point man" to create partnerships and improve services.

"We need a cheerleader for aviation service in Beaufort County," board member Graham Kerr said during Thursday's meeting.

However, projects at the two airports have not been affected by the vacancy, according to county officials -- though there have been other delays.

A nearly $2-million expansion of the Hilton Head Island Airport terminal has been delayed until next year because of a lack of qualified bids, according to McFee.

The county sought more bids Oct. 6 and responses will be reviewed Nov. 7, July Elder of airport consulting firm Talbert & Bright told the board Thursday.

A 700-foot extension of the runway to 5,000 feet has also been delayed about nine months by an archeological survey to uncover and preserve artifacts from Mitchelville, the first self-governed freed slaves' town in America. The village, established in 1862, once occupied land that became part of the airport.

"An archeological dig is a pretty meticulous process. That's why everything has slowed down quite a bit," Kubic said.

Results of the survey and an environmental assessment have been sent to the Federal Aviation Administration and State Historic Preservation Office for their review and approval, Elder said.

The FAA has also delayed the closure of the control tower at the Hilton Head facility but has not told the county when the tower will be closed, Kubic said.

The tower, which is run by Robinson Aviation under a contract, had been set to close Oct. 1 due to federal spending cuts enacted by Congress.

"They're still on the job, but do not know for how long," Kubic said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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