Headhunter for top BWI job apologizes to state

Firm regrets implying process was tainted

April 06, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

A headhunting firm hired to find a new executive director for Baltimore-Washington International Airport apologized yesterday for publicly suggesting that the state's hiring process was tainted, and state officials said they are considering suing the company to recover its $50,000 fee and expenses.

Boyden Global Executive Search resigned from the search this week after learning that Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari had selected a Baltimore engineering and design executive for the high-profile state job.

The candidate, Paul J. Wiedefeld, vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc.'s Baltimore office, was never interviewed by the headhunter company and did not go through the same screening process as candidates identified by the firm.

Wiedefeld, whose company has a multimillion-dollar contract to design and engineer the state's $1.8 billion airport expansion, has not been offered the job, but his selection was approved March 13 by the Maryland Aviation Commission, which advises the transportation secretary on airport management matters.

He held several high-level planning positions within the state Transportation Department before leaving for the private sector in 1994, but has no experience in airport or aviation management.

Porcari declined to comment on the status of the director search. But when asked about suing Boyden for the fee, he said Transportation Department officials were weighing their legal options.

Agency officials have previously said they were considering suing Boyden for the fee and expenses.

"I think the apology [by Boyden] was appropriate," Porcari said yesterday. "The important thing to remember is there's been a lot of integrity to this process, and this is about finding the best possible executive director. It's much bigger than the ego of one headhunter."

In a strongly worded resignation letter released to the press this week, Boyden partner Timothy C. McNamara said Porcari had tainted the search by cutting the consultant out of the process.

Industry experts agree Porcari's move was unusual in view of the fact that a headhunter was retained to ensure an unbiased search free of political influences.

Because Boyden hadn't interviewed the candidate, McNamara said the firm could not do the job it was hired to do or be held responsible for the hiring process.

The dispute prompted Del. Peter Franchot, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the airport, to schedule a briefing yesterday with McNamara and state transportation officials to discuss the matter. The briefing was canceled at the last minute because lawmakers were tied up in session.

McNamara declined in advance to appear at the briefing, but sent Franchot a two-page letter apologizing for airing the dispute in public and for questioning the integrity of the process.

"We apologize for this mistake, which has raised unnecessary concerns about the selection process. ... There was never any intention to question the viability of the candidate under consideration," the letter stated.

Franchot said he would press Boyden executives to return the state's $50,000 fee and to fire McNamara, who has conducted similar searches at major ports and airports nationwide for more than 16 years.

Absent those actions, Franchot said, he would seek to have the firm barred from handling any future state business. "The implication was that [Wiedefeld] was somehow plucked out of the sky by political forces when, in fact, he wasn't," Franchot said.

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