Friday, November 24, 2006

Friedman Airport demands Jack-of-all-trades manager


Rick Baird

It's true. Give a busy person a job to make sure it gets done.

At 56, Rick Baird's pace has not only not slowed, but the tempo has increased—and he still gets jobs done.

He's the $84,000-a-year, full-time manager of Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, plus the unsalaried mayor of the small city of Carey (population: 650), a fast-growing Blaine County community.

Add to those official functions his volunteer civic work that makes him glow when discussing it—a seven-year board member of Blaine County Manor, working to build an ambitious new senior care facility east of Hailey in Croy Canyon.

"A mark of how good a society is," Baird says, "is how it takes care of those who have difficulty caring for themselves."

However beneficial that volunteerism is, Baird's most measurable achievements are at the airport and in Carey, both beehives of activity.

As airport manager for 12 years, Baird is required to be the figurative Jack-of-all-trades—diplomat in dealing with tenants, expertise in electronic navigation systems, finance manager, master of construction and engineering contracts, knowledgeable in aerodynamic demands of aircraft and pilots' flight needs, good neighbor to the airport's nearby residential areas, familiar with the dizzying bureaucratic rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration, conversant with law and, yes, always prepared to answer questions of the five-member airport authority that pays his salary.

He's proud, Baird says, of "doing in (Friedman's) 230 acres what most airports need 800 acres to do."

Few airport managers can boast of his experience over the past year and a half—the often tense and contentious search for a site for a new $100 million airport to replace Friedman.

Working with the airport's governing board, Baird worked with 25 community interest groups—he called them "stakeholders" in Friedman's operations—to provide volunteers for a site selection committee.

For months thereafter, potential sites were nominated. The selection committee studied and analyzed a blinding set of qualifying site requisites (weather, environment, wildlife activity, terrain, location convenience and the like). Finalist sites were picked. Sites were inspected. Town hall meetings were held to explain the need for a new airport, and Baird hosted early morning "coffee talk" meetings in Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties to answer questions over coffee.

Baird had to arise before dawn in Carey to make these meetings, then finish a full day's work that might last another 10 hours—provided there was no airport emergency requiring his attention.

"You can't get the right decision for a community unless you go through that very public, painful process," Baird said of meetings that often involved abrasive disagreements with critics of the proposed sites.

Work as Carey mayor also has lost its laid-back, neighborly, small-town simplicity. With a population that has increased 50 percent in the past few years, Carey is confronted with explosive growth. Some 700 to 800 lots in the area are in planning stages as families pushed out of the northern Wood River Valley by high real estate prices and taxes look for affordable housing.

Perhaps surprising to those who expect a man of Baird's pace to be a frantic A-personality, he's the personification of calm. As 20-year Army veteran, including as first sergeant helicopter waist gunner shot down in the Vietnam War, not much in his current line of work rattles him.

One antidote to stress is his daily lunch hour walk—two to three miles from the airport to downtown Hailey and return for lunch with his wife, who works for Blaine County as deputy treasurer. The walk not only has a restful quality, but it has helped Baird lose 30 to 40 pounds over time.

Baird's ambition, he says, is to stick around long enough to manage the new all-weather airport.

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