Just as local government officials are planning to put a bond for an updated airport before voters, Kip Turner, director of aviation at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, may fly away to a new job in Grand Junction.
Turner has been head honcho at the airport since 2013, and until he accepts the position, any response is speculation, Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
“Neither he nor city staff would be allowed to campaign for the new airport,” LeBlanc said, “but we can be available to answer questions. But both the city staff and City Council would have to be more knowledgeable than we currently are to answer questions if he’s gone.”
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, who serves as the county’s representative on the Airport Commission, sees Turner’s possible departure as more of an operations loss than one impacting a potential ballot initiative.
“The bond is more an outcome of the master plan study to present the overall picture,” Westendorff said, “which Jviation was contracted to do. That lays out what the needs are and allows for stability during a transition.”
Not only is Turner a finalist for the top job in Grand Junction, he is the only finalist, recommended by the Airport Authority’s selection committee on Friday, The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction reported.
“It was an opportunity that presented itself,” Turner said. “For me and my family, it was at least worth looking into. I really don’t know what’s happening from their side, but both parties are taking time to consider the options.”
The recommendation to hire Turner goes to the entire Grand Junction board, which cannot take action for 14 days. The board wants Turner to meet with residents and local officials in the interim, Chairman Steve Wood said.
“We’ll be waiting with bated breath,” said Joe Kirby, La Plata County manager. “It would be a great loss because he fills a critical position in the county, and Kip has done a great job.”
Turner said he has not decided to take the position if it’s offered.
“There are things that attract me to both locations, there and here,” he said.
The Grand Junction airport has struggled to find stability in the position since 2014, when director Rex Tippetts was fired after an FBI investigation into fraud at the facility. Since then, operations manager Ben Johnson, who worked in the post for six months, elected to return to his former position, and the airport “parted company” with his successor, David Fiore, in January, the Sentinel reported.
“From what I have seen, that’s related to the individuals involved,” Turner said, “more so than necessarily the airport itself.”
In limbo on a new administration building, which is unfinished after construction was halted in 2014, the Grand Junction airport is working on plans to build a new runway.
The Grand Junction Regional Airport is served by five airlines, including Allegiant, American, Delta, United and Denver Air, with 219,000 emplanements in 2015. Durango-La Plata County Airport is served by three airlines, United, American and U.S. Airways, and saw about 190,000 emplanements last year.
If Turner takes the job, finding a new director of aviation at the Durango-La Plata County Airport would take some time, LeBlanc said.
“It takes a while to hire a department head when you do a national search,” he said. “I’d have to re-read the IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) to see who leads the search, us or the county. It’s not something we do very often.”
Kirby would expect a search to take at least three to six months, he said. When hiring Turner, the Airport Commission had to undertake a second search because it didn’t find a suitable candidate in the first go-round.
“An organization isn’t very functional if it can’t proceed because of a change in leadership,” Westendorff said. “I still feel like whatever Kip does, we have to be able to succeed.”