TUPELO – While the Tupelo Airport Authority declined to say why it fired airport Executive Director Terry Anderson on Tuesday, their reason was clearly spelled out last week during an executive session: It had lost confidence in Anderson.
A visibly shaken authority chairman, Dan Kellum, said Tuesday that the board “has determined the need for new leadership” and that a search will begin immediately.
Margot Ganaway, a 21-year administrative assistant at the airport, is the interim director until a replacement is found.
Board members on Tuesday declined to comment further, saying that Kellum was the spokesman.
However, their positions were made clear on
Dec. 2, at a special meeting called by the board to discuss a “personnel issue.” There, board member Bo Gibens made a motion to terminate Anderson “because of the board’s loss of confidence in him.”
The motion was seconded by Jim Frerer.
That motion also gave Anderson, who was hired in January 2000, the chance “to resign in lieu of termination and to give him 60 days’ severance pay upon his resignation or termination.”
It’s unclear if Anderson will receive that severance pay now.
The authority on Tuesday likely voted 3-1 to fire Anderson, with Kellum voting against the move. At last week’s meeting, Kellum and former board member Carlyle “Smitty” Harris voted against the motion, while Gibens, Frerer and Glenn McCullough voted for Anderson’s dismissal.
Harris resigned from the authority shortly after last week’s meeting, saying that he could “no longer support a group which I believe has acted in a manner that is not in the best interests of Tupelo, Northeast Mississippi and certainly not in the best interests of the most productive, dedicated and effective airport director and leader in southeast America,”
‘Shocked and saddened’
On Tuesday, after being told by the board that he didn’t need to stick around as it entered into executive session, Anderson said he was “shocked and saddened” by the board’s move.
“My purpose and goal as executive director has always been to develop an all-service airport that would serve all aspects of aviation and would provide the economic engine for the industrial development of north Mississippi,” he said. “I regret that I will not be able to use my full abilities and experience to assist in the future development and expansion of the airport.
“I am shocked and saddened by the board’s action. It came without warning and by total surprise,” he continued. “My dismissal was without options.”
Anderson hired Tupelo attorney Jim Waide last week as reports surfaced that he would be fired.
On Tuesday, Waide said he would recommend that Anderson “take legal action.”
‘A terrible mistake’
Two former board members said they were surprised and disappointed by Anderson’s dismissal.
Chuck Moffatt and Karl Cornwell were on the board when it voted unanimously to hire Anderson as airport director more than a decade ago.
“We interviewed 15 people before we decided on who to hire,” Moffatt said. “Terry was the first and last person we interviewed and he was so far ahead of the game. There was no question that we needed to hire him.”
Cornwell said Anderson was the best airport director Tupelo had ever had and said his firing “is a terrible mistake.”
Moffatt also said he didn’t understand how Anderson’s job status changed so suddenly.
“Dan Kellum and I went over Terry’s employment evaluation for 10 years and there was never a negative mark against him,” he said. “He was an exemplary employee … this (firing) is so ill-conceived.”
Asked why he thought the current board voted to fire Anderson, Moffatt said “I think they have an ulterior motive that’s not being stated, and I think it will surface as time goes on.”
Anderson said that the airport authority didn’t give him a chance to defend himself.
“I am very sorry that certain board members have decided not to use job performance or the betterment of Tupelo and the surrounding region as a basis of their decision,” he said. “I would have appreciated the decency to respond and the courtesy of due process with an opportunity to correct any perceived discrepancies or shortfalls in my performance.”
Navy man turned teacher
While Anderson declined to say anything else about his firing, he did say it would give him a chance to work in his barn on his land in Saltillo and “doing all the honey-do lists I haven’t been able to get to the last 10 years.”
Anderson was an eighth-grade science teacher at Tupelo Middle School when he was named the airport’s executive director in January 2000.
Before teaching, he had retired from the U.S. Navy after a 28-year career, which included stints as a combat pilot in Vietnam and commanding officer.
Kellum, who was airport authority chairman then as well, said of Anderson’s hiring at the time that “we were looking for someone who would work well with our community leaders.”
Anderson succeeded Roger Blickensderfer, who resigned after nine years.
Anderson retired from the Navy as a captain with about 5,000 hours of flight time, including 205 combat missions in Vietnam and 750 carrier landings.
His administrative experience included having been head of pilot training for the Navy, operations officer for the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, operations officer for the Navy’s East Coast training carrier group and readiness officer for Naval aviation forces east of the Mississippi River.
As a teacher, Anderson earned accolades, including being nominated for a teacher of distinction award.
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal