Thursday, January 30, 2020

Something smells at BXM/MRRA, and we don't think it's a fish

Well here we are, up and about and thinking on local matters.  Most recently, we've found ourselves more and more curious about "operations" at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, now known as Brunswick Landing.  And in particular, the airport upon the premises, known as Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM in aviation shorthand.)

Base redevelopment, which encompasses Brunswick Landing and the former Navy Annex properties in Topsham, is overseen by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA.)  MRRA is an agency of Maine State Government, defined in statute, and is similar in function and near-autonomy to NNEPRA, the Authority that operates the Amtrak Downeaster.

Steve Levesque has been the Executive Director of MRRA since it was created, and there is a Board that supposedly oversees and directs the policy of the operation, with little or no Legislative or Executive Branch involvement or intervention.

Lately we've noticed that something seems a little "fishy" over at the Landing, and in particular with respect to BXM and its management.  And the fishy smell extends to The Ostrich, which many would say is barely useful as fish wrap.  We would never say such a thing, but we defend the right of others to do so.

Let us explain.  You may have seen this item that ran on Monday, January 13th of this year:

You can find the entire article here:

The Ostrich, otherwise known as the Times Record, bills itself ever so modestly as "Local. Legitimate. Journalism."  All three are debatable, but we won't bore you with that discussion right now.

Subsequently, this follow-up article appeared, authored by Levesque himself:

You can find the entire item here:

We found this “guest column” strange to say the least, and entirely gratuitous given what we know about Marty McMahon’s circumstances.  We don’t mean to suggest that he is anything but a superlative manager of BXM.  But we do find ourself wondering what Levesque was up to given McMahon’s situation in recent months.

Levesque praises McMahon as an absolute cornerstone of BXM’s operation and growth, and given the traffic counts cited, which are said to be heavier than Navy squadrons generated when they populated the base, you would think Marty must have been working long hours dealing with all that traffic in the air, on the runways, and jockeying for position on the apron area on the way out and on the way in.  You can imagine quite the traffic jams at times, especially since BXM has no manned tower.

So imagine our surprise when we learned that at least as far back as September of last year, McMahon was no longer an MRRA staff member, but was instead providing “some contract support.”  We take this to mean that he was no longer a State Employee as MRRA employees would be, enjoying the generous benefits, health care, and pension coverage provided to those who work for the state.  Not to mention the job security.

This seemed odd to say the very least.  Then we discovered that as Airport Manager, he was only working 5 hours a day from Monday to Thursday, for a total of 20 hours a week.  He must be a real magician, overseeing an airport that averages 66 takeoffs and landings every day of the year.

This eclipses the General Aviation traffic counts at nearby Portland International, which handles more than double this number overall when commercial and air taxi flights are included.

Just imagine how many folks they have managing just the incoming and outgoing flight traffic there, while BXM is getting by with one half-time manager.

Shocked as I was by Marty’s employment status, I assumed that the search for his replacement would likely be under the same terms: a contract employee working part time, as opposed to a full time member of MRRA staff as we believe Marty once was.
We were curious about this, and a few weeks ago, Steve Levesque made it clear that we were no longer to contact Marty with questions, but were instead to make all inquiries to Shannan Smith, Steve’s assistant.

Accordingly, we emailed Ms. Smith on 17 January with this query:
Ms. Smith:  Is the job listing for an Airport Manager to replace Marty McMahon advertised as a part time job?  Under contract to MRRA, rather than on MRRA staff?
We’ve yet to receive an answer.

More curiously, given the article and the guest column in The Ostrich, and what we knew of McMahon’s circumstances, we submitted this letter to Times Record editors on 16 January, and got no response.
Pem Schaeffer 
To:Times Record,John Swinconeck
Jan 16 at 10:43 PM
Steve Levesque's high praise for Marty McMahon, now departing his job as Manager and overseer of air operations at BXM, sounds way off key.  We assume Marty must be leaving the area, since the Navy has no local presence, at least in the aviation field, which is his career portfolio.
In addition to lavish recitation of Marty's accomplishments and leadership, Levesque states: "While Marty will move over to his new position, he is not gone totally, as he will still be engaged with us on a limited basis to help out with several of our airport initiatives on a consulting basis."
Marty has been so vital to MRRA and BXM operations, that for more than a year, his office hours have been 20 hours or less on Monday thru Thursday.  How's that for a bustling airport operation?  More "operations" than the Navy had in 2005 with a full complement of P3 squadrons.  All that activity with no manned tower, and a half time (or less) airport Manager.
Not only that, at least as far back as September, Marty was no longer on MRRA Staff, and instead was placed under contract to MRRA, meaning he could not speak for the MRRA.
This can only make one wonder how realistic those tallies of 60 plus daily takeoffs and landings on average all year long are, and how they are counted, since there is no manned tower operation, and the airport manager is part time.  Wouldn't all those planes coming and going require serious staffing and traffic control on the aprons and such?
Perhaps the editors could assign one of the reporting staff to investigate some of these details.
Pem Schaeffer
We followed up twice asking if the letter would be published:
Pem Schaeffer 
To:Times Record,John Swinconeck
Jan 22 at 7:05 PM
Please advise whether you plan to run this letter, and if not, why.
Pem Schaeffer
Pem Schaeffer 
To:Times Record, John Swinconeck
Jan 24 at 8:18 AM

The favor of a reply would be appreciated.

Pem Schaeffer
So, the Editors have had two weeks to ponder the use of the letter, and won’t even respond to a simple status request.

We can all guess why they chose not to run the letter.  Here we were moving the story forward, as they say in the news business, and they aren’t interested.

We suppose if we were to confront them in person they’d claim the subject columns ran too long ago to run a letter on the subject.  It's "old news."

That must be what they mean by “Local. Legitimate. Journalism.”

Maybe they should add "Irrelevant. Obsequious. Uninvestigated." to their masthead.