Highlights from this year’s AAAE Conference & Expo
By John F. Infanger & Lindsay M. Hitch
NEW ORLEANS — At this year’s American Association of Airport Executives annual conference, federal funding took a lower profile than at recent meetings and was replaced by capacity, technology, and the lengthy process involved in getting runways and other infrastructure built. Here’s our editors’ report from the event, featuring select seminar briefings and other notable news and quotes.
GA AIRPORT FINANCING
Proper financing and billing can make the difference between a successful or failing airport. The AAAE session, GA Airport Finance — Small Airports, Big Dividends, featured speakers Scott Gray, airport director for Scottsdale (AZ) Airport, and Steve Calabro, airport director of Chesterfield County (VA) Airport. Both suggested a number of ways to reevaluate and diminish costs.
Gray says that a Rates & Fees Study conducted for 1997/1998 to evaluate how rates and fees were determined resulted in a 42 percent increase in commercial activities in the airpark from 1997 to 2000. Scottsdale also conducted an Indirect/Direct Cost Review to determine what it was paying for and why. The airport was charged for municipal administrative services it did not utilize. Of $200,000 spent on administrative costs, the airport was able to save $190,000 by showing that it didn’t use the city’s functions. And of $420,000 budgeted for ARFF costs, the airport saved $230,000 by working with the city’s established services.
Calabro says that Chesterfield used its status as a county-owned airport to keep costs low. The airport uses established county departments for finance, personnel, training, etc., rather than hiring staff. In 1991 the airport turned over maintenance and fuel services to the FBO and was able to cut its staff from 18 to six employees. Calabro says that by conducting a rate analysis, running the airport like a business, and taking advantage of state and federal funding, the airport began making a profit in 1994.
HANDLING EMPLOYEE MISCONDUCT
Sexual harassment cases can affect any business, but are often not top of mind until there is a problem. Managers and HR personnel should be prepared to handle situations methodically and appropriately to avoid harassment lawsuits, recommends Stephen Hirschfeld, a partner at Curial, Dellaverson, Hirschfeld, Kelly & Kraemer, LLP.
Hirschfeld’s main point: Teaching employees how to fairly investigate sexual harassment allegations can save companies time and headaches. Whe-ther the employee is guilty or innocent, it’s critical that the investigation is conducted in a fair manner.
Hirschfeld says that most personnel managers don’t know how to handle sexual harassment allegations between employees. If an employee is speaking or acting inappropriately with another employee, there should be an investigation and consequences. The law requires companies to stop incidents from happening again, not to automatically fire employees.
Managers involved in investigations don’t have to clearly determine guilt. In a courtroom, Hirschfeld says, there must be enough evidence to conclude one way over another beyond a reasonable doubt. In court that equates to 99 percent certainty.
"So when determining employee misconduct, do you have the same standards?" asks Hirschfeld.
No, he says. In employee investigations a preponderance of evidence equal to about 51 percent certainty is enough to make a decision. It’s enough as long as the investigation was fair and objective to both parties.
Hirshfeld offers tips for conducting a thorough, fair investigation:
• Ask who, what, where, when, and why.
• Avoid yes/no questions.
• Stop when there is enough evidence.
• Plan the investigation; don’t jump into it.
• Start with broad questions, then get specific.
• Don’t use leading questions.
• Relay the impression that the accused will be treated fairly.
• Explore ill motive: Why would the accuser lie?
• Use common sense in listening to witnesses and character witnesses; assess each witness’s credibility.
• Ask reluctant witnesses why they don’t want to talk.
• The Fifth Amendment is not applicable in internal civil investigations; have a written policy stating that failure/refusal to cooperate in or interference with an employee investigation is grounds for discipline or termination.
• Employers are not required to allow employees to have legal counsel, unless employees are union members.
By being fair, weighing both sides of the story and other testimony, and determining if the accusation seems logical, the employer has done enough, says Hirschfeld. Circumstan-tial evidence can be sufficient in these cases, and handling the situation appropriately is often more important than determining guilt, he explains.
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