As Little Rock National Airport turns | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, August 20, 2011

As Little Rock National Airport turns

Posted By on Sat, Aug 20, 2011 at 6:50 AM

It's Saturday and slow. How about a little inside baseball from Little Rock National Airport?

Last week, former TV newsman and current gas industry PR man Mark Raines accepted, and then declined, a $125,000-a-year job as director of PR and government relations for Little Rock National Airport. He cited family concerns.

Yesterday, an interesting story came to me. It was that Airport Commissioner Thomas Schueck, a successful industrialist not known as a retiring type, had spoken publicly and loudly about his unhappiness at Raines' selection and talked of making Raines' life difficult. Schueck backed another finalist for the job, former City Director Michael Keck. Shortly after, Raines (told of Schueck's remarks by a friend as the story goes) decided not to take the job. Word got back to Schueck, who called Raines and tried to make things right, but Raines decided to stay put in the Fayetteville shale world. Two sources told me this story.

I called Raines. "My decision for not taking that job is just very personal. I’m not going to get into a lot of that hearsay." He said he had heard from Schueck Thursday and appreciated his call and thought highly of the airport and its leaders. "It was a nice thing for him to do. And I'll just leave it at that."

Schueck said that he'd said nothing unpleasant publicly or privately about Raines, though he said he'd had a difference of opinion with Ron Mathieu, the airport director, on whether the choice would be solely Mathieu's to make (as Mathieu had announced from the beginning) or product of a Commission decision.

"It's absolutely untrue that I said anything to anybody. I was happy with him," Schueck said. Yes, he did call Raines. Yes, he called because he'd heard a story that Raines might have withdrawn because of something he'd reportedly said and he wanted to correct that impression. "He was not my favorite. But you don't always get what you want. I thought he was a wonderful candidate and would have made a great employee," Schueck said. He added that he told Raines that he was sure he could get an expression of unanimous support from the commission if that would make him feel more comfortable. But he said Raines told him he understood there was a split on the commision about the job and "didn't think he could work there under those conditions."

Well, OK. Then there was this. The same sources who indicated (correctly) that Schueck had called Raines about his decision to withdraw and that there'd been some sort of division on the matter also told me that Schueck might have had cause to be upset with Mathieu for not choosing his preferred candidate because he thought Mathieu owed him a favor. By one source's account, Schueck had made it possible for $40,000 to be contributed to Little Rock Christian Academy so it could repay the airport for the controversial $40,000 in airport ad dollars Mathieu had directed to the private school for a new football field surface. The airport got a sideline ad for the money. The matter became hotly controversial after the Arkansas Times uncovered it.

"Where do you keep coming up with those falsehoods?" Schueck asked.

That's not an answer to the question of whether Schueck had a role in providing the means for the airport to get its money back to help Mathieu out of the controversy.

"That's all been handled and I'm not going back into it," he said.

That's not a yes or no, I said.

"That's all been handled and I'm not going back into it," he said.

Well, OK then.

Schueck said, by the way, that I shouldn't take this as any indication of any problem between him and Mathieu. Families have occasional disagreements, he said, "but I'm a team player and I do what's best for the team."

Mathieu is now going to reconsider earlier applicants for the job and decide how to proceed, Commission Chairman Virgil Miller said. It's Mathieu's call, said Miller, who added, "He has the full support of the Commission."

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