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Little Rock airport executives cleared of hiring allegations, according to outside review

LR lawyer finds no wrongdoing by Noel Oman | April 23, 2022 at 4:58 a.m.
FILE — A sign for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock is shown in this undated file photo.

A review of allegations surrounding the hiring process involving an open supervisory position at the state's largest airport last fall were found to be "unsubstantiated and not supported by the facts," the lawyer who conducted the review said Friday.

But at the same time, Little Rock attorney Jane A. Kim made several recommendations, including that the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission "publicly clarify the airport's actual hiring process, including whether the highest average interviewer score is the determining factor in applicant selection."

The review was spurred by allegations from Charles E. Jones, the former operations director at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field.

Bryan Malinowski, the airport's top executive, fired the 14-year employee in December, saying their management styles weren't "in sync."

Within days of his dismissal, Jones, a retired Air Force non-commissioned officer, sent an email to commission members Jill Floyd, who is the chairman, and Bill Walker, alleging, among other things, that Malinowski told him to hire a white candidate for an open entry-level supervisory position even though he scored a Black candidate as more qualified. Both commission members are Black.

Malinowski has said race didn't play a role in the decision to fill the supervisory position, which was filled by an internal candidate.

Kim, who specializes in employment law at the law firm of Wright Lindsey Jennings, discussed her report at a meeting Friday morning of the commission's personnel committee, which voted to ask the full commission to accept Kim's findings at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Kim, as part of the review, interviewed Jones and nine other witnesses and reviewed airport policy.

She found the following policies applicable to the investigation: discrimination and harassment, equal opportunity, applications, internal job postings and nepotism.

"The airport does not have a written policy or procedure addressing the interview process or the applicant selection process," Kim wrote in the 20-page report. "Human Resources does, however, have an interviewee evaluation form for each position at the airport that includes specific questions to be asked by the interview panelists."

She noted the form includes a section for scoring certain measurement categories on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest rating.

According to Jones, Jim Bass, a manager who would be the new employee's direct supervisor, and another supervisor, Doug Bennett, had "pre-selected" an internal candidate even before the position was posted because he was the candidate Bass wanted.

Kim said she was unable to substantiate Jones allegations with other witnesses, who didn't believe Bass, in particular, acted any different during certain interviews with one describing his as being "engaged and fair throughout the entire interview process."

Many people thought it was unusual for a high-level executive such as Jones to inject himself in the process for a manager several levels down from his position.

"Most witnesses volunteered that Mr. Jones did not appear to support the managers on his own team and that he had a well-known history of not getting along with Mr. Bass in particular," the report said.

Jones, reached by telephone Friday afternoon, declined comment.

The scoring gave the nod to the external candidate while the panel, by a 3-1 vote, preferred the internal candidate. The external candidate was Black while the internal candidate was white and is the son of a niece of Tom Clarke, the airport's deputy executive director.

Jones claimed both Malinowski and Clarke injected themselves in the hiring process to help flip the selection to the internal candidate.

Jones, however, in an interview with Kim, withdrew any suggestion that the external candidate was subject to discrimination and the the selection of the internal candidate wasn't based on race.

Clarke only got involved when the airport's human resources director, Mark Williams, suggested a meeting with Clarke on how to proceed past the impasse. It was only then, Kim said, that Clarke learned his relative was up for the position. During the meeting, Malinowski happened to walk into Clarke's office at which point the situation was explained to him.

Jones showed him the chart with the total interviewee scores for each applicant.

"Although no interviewer names were listed, one set of scores immediately raised a red flag for Mr. Malinowski due to the very low score for [the internal candidate] and very high score for [external candidate], which conveniently bolstered Mr. Jones' argument that the applicant with the high combined score should be selected," Kim wrote.

"Mr. Malinowski found it highly suspicious that one one interviewer out of four would have picked up on an issue that resulted in such a noticeable discrepancy in the two applicants' scores and ultimately questioned Mr. Jones' reliance on interviewer scores."

The airport's top executive then asked Jones if he was aware of his goal of promoting qualified internal candidates when possible. Jones, Kim said, then asked if that was Malinowski's policy or commission policy. [It is a commission-issued performance goal for Malinowski, the report said.]

"According to everyone else in the room, Mr. Jones was insubordinate and unprofessional during his brief interaction with Mr. Malinowski," she wrote.

When Jones conceded that external candidate wasn't "head and shoulders" above the internal applicant, Malinowski said the internal candidate should be selected and then left, according to the report.

Neither Malinowski nor Clarke had any knowledge or involvement in the hiring process before that Dec. 9 meeting except for Bass expressing his concerns about the process to Malinowski, according to Kim.

Further, Clarke disclosed his familial relationship with the internal candidate when he was hired in 2016 and when the internal candidate applied for duty manager in 2017. Jones served on both interview panels, Kim wrote, with the knowledge of the familial relationship between Clarke and the candidate.

"At no time during those hiring processes did Mr. Clarke try to influence or pressure Mr. Jones to select Horton," Kim said.

The commission policy on nepotism doesn't extend past niece or nephew and therefore wasn't applicable to Clarke's situation.

Kim based her recommendations on confusion expressed by witnesses.

"Many witnesses initially stated that applicants are selected by highest average score but, when asked to explain the process in detail, they described selecting applicants by interview panel consensus," she wrote. "All witnesses acknowledged they do not actually know whether a selected applicant has the highest average score, and some witnesses admittedly are uncertain/skeptical of the scoring process in general.

In addition to clarifying the hiring process, Kim also suggested that the commission implement a formal written policy or procedure to break an impasse, possibly a majority vote or a second round of interviews.

Further, she also said the airport's application policy should be revised to ensure consistency with internal job postings policy and the airport's actual practice with respect to advertising open positions to the public.

The applications policy said job openings are posted on department bulletin boards and advertised publicly while the internal job postings policy said the hiring supervisor may consider outside applicants if an internal candidate isn't selected.

Print Headline: Airport officers cleared in review


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