After more than five hours of contentious discussion Monday, the Airport Authority voted down a measure to fire Tim Rowe, the Carson City Airport manager.
The authority voted 5-2 against a motion to terminate Rowe, with Chairman Karl Hutter and Vice Chairman Don Peterson casting the two votes to oust the manager.
The agenda item brought to the authority by the two chairs raised at least 11 issues with Rowe’s performance and alleged he acted without authority and in violation of Title 19, the municipal code that governs the airport, and demonstrated a lack of competence in certain managerial duties such as budgeting.
But the authority’s discussion, as well as public comment from more than a dozen of the 50 or so people present, focused on the actions of the authority as much as on Rowe’s performance.
“It’s not the manager’s failure to perform, it’s our failure to tell him how to perform,” said authority member Supervisor Jim Shirk, who along with authority members Linda Law, Steve Poscic, Phil Stotts and Maurice White voted down the measure.
Shirk was referring to the fact the authority has never drawn up a job description for the airport manager or, in some instances, reprimanded Rowe at the time of the alleged violations.
“There is a lack of communication between the authority and the manager,” he said.
Much of the discussion about the authority centered around the way Rowe’s performance review and potential termination had been handled by Hutter and Peterson, who called the special meeting and notified Rowe of it on April 22.
White said he found the alleged behavior of the chair and vice chair in regards to that meeting more troubling than problems he found with Rowe’s performance.
“It is more grievous than anything Tim has done and if there’s an action to take tonight it is to do with the chairman and vice chairman,” White said.
Poscic, who was present at that meeting along with Rowe’s attorney, John Moore, claimed Peterson said he was acting on behalf of the authority and tried to intimidate Rowe into resigning by offering him a severance package if he quit by the end of the day.
“I’d agree if that was what was said, but that is absolutely not how it was represented,” said Hutter. “At no time did I or the vice chair present ourselves as representing the authority.”
Peterson said they were following open meeting law procedures and Hutter said they told Rowe they would support a severance package if it were presented on the agenda.
Rowe’s alleged infractions included authorizing two special events and a security contract without airport authority approval, and withholding information from the authority critical to the airport’s safe operation.
The latter involved an incident when reportedly a car crossed the runway as a plane carrying Gov. Brian Sandoval landed.
Rowe was on vacation at the time and began to investigate when he returned three days after the incident, but he said there was little evidence of who it was despite suggestions it was the girlfriend of one of the airport’s business owners so he didn’t call the police.
Peterson said that showed a lack of judgement.
“I could have called the Sheriff and asked them to investigate, but I think I would have been laughed at,” Rowe said.
The special events were a Corvette Club Rally, which was canceled once the authority objected to it, and an impromptu two-car race between a Corvette and a Tesla vehicle during the airport’s open house.
Title 19 says such events shall be authorized by the authority or the manager, but then goes onto say the time and place must be approved by the authority.
Peterson said his biggest concern was with Rowe’s integrity and claimed Rowe misrepresented himself during his initial job interview.
Peterson then showed a clip of the public interview on March 23, 2011, in which an authority member asked Rowe if he was a chief pilot and Rowe said no.
Peterson said his answer was evasive because Rowe for the last six years has flown a Cessna 421 an average of twice a month for a tenant of the airport.
Harlow Norvell, chairman of the airport authority at the time of Rowe’s hiring, said during public comment he encouraged Rowe to continue flying to maintain proficiency and supplement his salary, which was lower than the area airport average.
“I believe this agenda item amounts to nothing more than a lynch mob, and I am very dismayed to see that the board has come to this,” said Norvell.
Norvell and a dozen other people involved with the airport and familiar with Rowe, including a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration, defended the manager during public comment.
“All interaction with Mr. Rowe has been nothing but outstanding from the FAA’s perspective,” said Larry Cheek, a safety education manager in the FAA’s Reno office.
Rowe said after the meeting he was happy to retain his job and looked forward to working with the authority to develop a manual and review process for airport employees.
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