The manager of Albert Whitted Municipal Airport has quit, saying that the public debate over its future kept him from doing his job.
His departure heightens the pressure on city leaders to decide whether to keep the airport or redevelop the 110 waterfront acres.
Monty Burgess resigned July 12 to become vice president of operations and maintenance for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
The new job is a clear step up for the 59-year-old career airport manager. Yet he leaves frustrated.
"There's talk about possibly closing the airport," Burgess said. "It is basically unknown as to the direction the city's going."
Activists who favor keeping and upgrading the airport liked Burgess. He had plenty of ideas for the airport's future. Now that he is leaving, the activists fear the city will tilt the debate toward redevelopment.
"They'll use this departure to fill the position with someone who is not dedicated to continuing the growth of this airport, but to planning its closure," said Jack Tunstill, the local volunteer for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association airport support network. "I've told the mayor that we want a national search for the person to fill that position."
City Development Administrator Rick Mussett has made former airport employee Sheri Weaver the acting airport supervisor. He said the city may not seek a permanent manager until the City Council decides on the airport's future.
"We may be waiting to recruit until we see if we can get some policy direction on where the airport is going," Mussett said. "Whatever policy direction (City) Council sets, that's what we're going to do."
In his new job, Burgess will oversee employees at both Nashville International Airport, which serves commercial airlines, and for John C. Tune airport, which primarily serves private planes like Whitted.
"I'm quite pleased with the opportunity it provides for me," he said.
By the time he left Whitted, however, he saw almost no opportunity there, he said. City officials had placed the airport under a Waterfront Enterprises Department run by director Joe Zeoli. That move changed Burgess' title from director to manager, though he was still paid about $76,000.
Burgess also was frustrated because the city didn't want to commit the money to upgrade _ or maintain _ an airport that might end up closing.
In addition, the city froze the vacant positions of the six or seven city employees he once supervised, he said. That meant that if a rusty spot on a building needed painting, he picked up the bucket and did it, he said.
"For over a year I've had vacancies I was unable to fill," Burgess said. "It got down to the point that I was the only person on the payroll at the airport."
Mussett said workers Zeoli supervises are available to the airport, port and city marina as needed. Zeoli was on vacation Monday.
First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston acknowledged that Burgess was in a frustrating position.
"I think Monty really felt that until some decisions were made, it was very difficult for him to do his job," she said. "He said he just happened to see the ad, applied for the job and didn't necessarily expect to hear any more about it. And things started to happen."