Newly appointed airport manager Stephen Snyder has set some lofty goals for the Greenbrier Valley Airport. The new manager wants to use his new position to help further tourism in the area along with enhancing educational and medical operations at the home of the state’s longest runway. But first, he needs to deal with a lawsuit and an audit, and find new directors of operations and maintenance, and possibly, a new chief financial officer.
The Greenbrier County Airport Authority hired Snyder last month. After long-time manager Jerry O’Sullivan retired in February, Snyder was appointed to the job on an interim basis. In May, the authority voted to hire him permanently, however the vote was not unanimous – authority member and former County Commission President Betty Crookshanks voted against his hiring, citing “a different philosophy” than the rest of the members.
Despite Crookshanks’ dissenting vote, airport authority Chairman Lowell Johnson said the authority “felt he was doing a great job” as interim manager. and said, with Snyder’s hiring as permanent manager, the airport is starting over from scratch. “It’s like Ronald Reagan said, ‘it’s a new day,’” said Johnson.
Johnson’s “new day” puts positive spin on what could be considered some hefty challenges at the airport. During the meeting in which the authority voted Snyder into the manager’s office, it was also announced that the director of operations and maintenance, Sherman McClung, had been dismissed.
McClung had been handpicked by Snyder’s predecessor, O’Sullivan, just last year. Also, during that same meeting, it was announced that the airport’s security officer had abruptly quit, and, that the authority was going to have the state perform an audit, and possibly a forensic audit, on the airport’s books, due to certain “discrepancies” noted in an earlier audit. Johnson confirmed to the Mountain Messenger that the airport’s chief financial officer, Linda Yoak, has been placed on administrative leave pending the audit’s results, due this month.
Johnson said that Yoak’s leave is not punitive, nor does it reflect any suspicion of wrongdoing on her part. He said that her leave is being administrated with pay, and that it is merely an attempt to “make sure all our ducks are in a row.”
For his part, Snyder said he’d welcome back the CFO should the audit result in no inconsistencies. “She’s not on leave because of anything suspect. She gets, quite frankly, a well-deserved vacation.”
Adding to the airport’s woes, O’Sullivan has filed a lawsuit against the authority and the Greenbrier County Commission alleging they owe him back pay. The suit, filed in May, alleges that the authority and commission, O’Sullivan’s employers, did not pay him accrued vacation pay due to him in the amount of $8,083.34, or the 10-year leave pay owed to him in the amount of $16,166.68. The suit says that the authority and the commission have violated the West Virginia Wage Payment Collection Act and are liable to pay O’Sullivan three times the wages in question to the tune of $72,750.06.
When asked about the lawsuit, Johnson said that the airport authority has hired Lewisburg attorney Rich Ford to represent them in the case, but also stated, “State law requires us to pay him what is owed. If we have done that incorrectly, we will make it right.”
All this leaves Snyder running an airport without a CFO, a maintenance and operations manager, and a security officer. But, he remains optimistic. He said he expects to separate the maintenance and operations manager positions into two jobs and post the jobs internally before putting them out to bid publicly. He said he will be looking to hire a new security officer as well. As for the CFO, he’s waiting for the audit results to come back from the state.
Meanwhile, he’s overseeing the rebuilding of the airport’s website, reviewing the airport’s land use with the Federal Aviation Administration, and looking to increase fuel sales, the airport’s bread and butter, by attracting jets and smaller aircraft to the Greenbrier Valley. He hopes to achieve this by including an interactive calendar of events to the revamped website in an effort to attract regional flyers to the area by showing them the variety of activities and attractions in the area.
Snyder is also looking to use the airport as an educational center, citing the Department of Defense STARBASE program, which teaches elementary students about the science of aeronautics through hands-on learning, as a program he’d like to bring to the Greenbrier Valley Airport.
“The next Homer Hickam could be sitting in a classroom right here in Greenbrier County,” said Snyder.
Snyder has already used his new manager title to establish the airport as a emergency services helicopter hub. This month, HealthNet Aeromedical Services will have a full-time hangar at the airport, dramatically decreasing the time that it will take to transfer critically-injured or ill patients to regional hospitals. With an emergency helicopter in permanent residence, Snyder said that emergency patients will be able to get to Charleston in 25 minutes, UVA Medical Center in 32 minutes, Roanoke in 22 minutes and a burn center in North Carolina in one hour and five minutes.
Snyder, a former emergency helicopter pilot himself, said the full-time presence of a medical transport helicopter will save lives by getting people to specialty units within what he calls the “golden hour,” the first critical hour after a patient has been critically injured.
“That’s when lives get saved,” said Snyder.