Salt Lake Airport Chief Axed 5 Months after Taking Helm

Just five months after taking control of the Salt Lake City International Airport, executive director Roy Williams has been fired.

"I regret that we had no choice but to terminate the employment of Roy Williams," Mayor Rocky Anderson wrote in a statement. "After a thorough investigation, including feedback from all members of senior management staff, it was clear to me and to the airport board that we had no choice but to urgently replace Mr. Williams with someone who can provide team-building, accessible, competent leadership at the city's airports."

The statement mentioned that replacing Williams was necessary "to preserve airport resources."

In a telephone interview, Anderson declined to give more detail. But he did say the airport was at risk of losing staff members under Williams' leadership.

"My decision wasn't one that I simply made on my own," the mayor said. "It was absolutely necessitated by the information that I had obtained and from the fact that we were about to lose senior management people who have served a long time with great distinction at the airport."

Williams commented on his termination in a written statement, saying he was "extremely disappointed" and that he believed he was tackling the airport's major issues, including encouraging growth of Delta Air Lines' use of the airport as a hub, managing the increasing use of the airport by local passengers and addressing an aging infrastructure.

"I believe we were making significant progress on all these issues during my short five-month tenure," the statement said.

Chris Thomas, a friend acting as Williams' spokesman, told the Deseret Morning News that Williams blamed his termination on differing philosophies between Williams and the administration on how to handle those issues.

But Anderson said: "This went way beyond strategies and philosophies."

A number of city and airport officials said they supported Anderson's decision.

"It's unfortunate when anything like this happens, but I think the mayor had some good reasons," City Council Chairman Dave Buhler said. He said the mayor had explained the decision to him privately, adding that it is "important that the airport be run well."

Keith Christensen, chairman of the city's airport advisory board, said he and Anderson spoke about the mayor's concerns in depth over the weekend, and he, along with other members of the board, also support Anderson's decision.

"It's not what either (Williams) or we had hoped for, but the justification that is present is sound in my opinion," said Christensen, a 2007 mayoral candidate whom Anderson has endorsed. "Rocky did the right thing."

Airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann declined to comment.

Williams took the airport's reins in May. Before that, he had been director of the New Orleans Airport. He took over the Salt Lake job a year after it had been vacated by Tim Campbell, who left to oversee the Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

During his tenure, Williams negotiated with Delta to try to open Salt Lake City's first nonstop flight to Europe. Discussion over the summer pointed to the possibility of a Delta Salt Lake-to-Paris flight by the middle of next year, but earlier this month, Williams said that timetable seemed unlikely.

Williams has also pushed for building a TRAX light-rail line to run to the airport. County and state leaders are working on prioritizing transportation projects that would be funded if voters approve a quarter-cent sales-tax increase next month. Williams has also dealt with several construction projects at the airport.

Anderson said those goals will continue to be pursued. "We have all of the upper-level management people there now who have been there for many years," he said.

In his statement, Williams made reference to "individuals who have assisted and supported me during my brief time in this position," but he did not mention conflicts or disagreements between himself and other airport or city staff, including the mayor.

Christensen said the termination was not sparked by personality clashes. Public perception, he said, is that "in many instances, Rocky pulls the trigger or has difficulty working with people. In this instance it was the right thing to do. It had nothing to do with personalities. It had everything to do with the business of the airport."

Russ Pack, who served as acting director after Campbell quit and before Williams was hired, will serve as acting director again until a replacement is hired. Pack retired in August as the airport's director of commercial and administration business after 29 years of working with the city.

Williams' replacement will be hired by Anderson, with input from the airport advisory board, Christensen said. He expects the search for a replacement to begin immediately.

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