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Unions at BWI ask for inquiry into new executive director

Ricky Smith replaced Paul Wiedefeld as administrator at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Ricky Smith replaced Paul Wiedefeld as administrator at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.(By Joshua McKerrow / Baltimore Sun)

Unions representing workers at BWI Marshall Airport asked legislative leaders Wednesday to investigate the hiring of the airport's new executive director, whose previous tenure in Cleveland has come under fire from federal safety officials.

Gov. Larry Hogan hired BWI administrator Ricky D. Smith Sr. this summer, and in September the Federal Aviation Administration fined Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for repeatedly failing to keep its runways safe while Smith ran the place.

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Maryland officials have acknowledged they did not know about the safety allegations when they hired Smith to run Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. But they said even if they had known, they would have hired him anyway and were satisfied with Smith's explanation that budget cuts led to understaffing in Cleveland.

Now, more than a month after the FAA issued $735,000 in fines against Cleveland's airport, the unions have asked state lawmakers to intervene.

The six unions "are concerned about their work environment if understaffing becomes an issue at BWI, but they are even more troubled by the ramifications for passenger safety," the union wrote in a statement released Wednesday.

They asked the General Assembly to investigate Smith's appointment and to review whether the airport job should require legislative approval in the future. Smith's post does not now require a Senate confirmation hearing.

"This is too important of a position for the selection to happen behind closed doors," Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME State Council 3, said in a statement. "A confirmation process in the Maryland legislature would have brought the runway safety issues to light and would have given the people of Maryland a chance to learn more about Ricky Smith's record and qualifications."

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has said his administration never denied funding for positions at the city's airport.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch heard of the union's request from news reporters, according to an aide to Miller. The aide offered no comment Wednesday.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer dismissed the call for an inquiry into Smith's hiring as a partisan attack.

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"This is nothing more than politics and responding to these claims is a complete waste of state resources and taxpayer dollars," Mayer said in a statement. "The administration will remain focused on running BWI in the most effective and efficient manner possible."

Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn, who hired Smith, defended him as "eminently qualified" and promised the problems in Cleveland would not appear in Maryland.

"The Cleveland Airport challenges resulted from inadequate resources beyond his control. At BWI Marshall, the Maryland Department of Transportation will ensure the airport has the resources it needs to provide good customer service and safe, reliable operations," Rahn said in a statement.

An airport spokesman did not make Smith available for comment but said, "Mr. Smith is focused on leading BWI Marshall Airport forward."

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