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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Embattled Head of Oxnard, Camarillo Airports Resigns

Aviation: Rod Murphy is called wasteful by critics, but his bosses defend him as a top-notch manager.

September 02, 2000|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than five years managing the county's airports in Camarillo and Oxnard--and serving as a lightning rod for airport critics--Rod Murphy announced Friday he is resigning to look for "new challenges."

Murphy, 56, has taken heat from airport neighbors, politicians and pilots since he was hired in 1994. Foes routinely blasted Murphy as a wasteful administrator and accused him of failing to take seriously their concerns. But his bosses on the Board of Supervisors and at the County Government Center always defended Murphy as a top-notch manager who unfairly endured flak over issues many airports face.

"It's difficult running an airport in an urban area. It's a draining job and at some point people start to think there is something better than this," said Harry Hufford, the county's chief administrative officer. "He has made a fine contribution to the city airports."

Murphy said he wanted to check out other airport administrator jobs on the East Coast as well as California.

"About every five or six years it's time to look for a new challenge," he said. "After awhile you kind of figure out the system, then get into coast mode. I will be looking at both private and public facilities and see what is the most challenging."

Murphy's tenure in Ventura County was certainly challenging.

A group of local pilots went before the Board of Supervisors in January and attacked Murphy for the way he ran the airports. They said there was a lack of oversight, uncontrolled spending, no accountability and a general squandering of money.

The supervisors took no action. One of Murphy's most ardent critics, Robert Fowler of the Camarillo Airport Hangar Owners Assn., was not available for comment Friday.

Supervisor Frank Schillo described Murphy as honest and straightforward.

"He took a lot of criticism from a lot of people," Schillo said. "It's a tough job. I wouldn't want to do it. You have constituencies opposing each other."

People who live near airports often complain of noise and traffic. People who fly out of the airports want more space and lower rental fees while politicians have found them easy scapegoats to score points with constituents.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez has called Oxnard Airport a nuisance and said he would like it closed so a school could be built on the site. In his first few years on the job, Murphy was criticized for looking at the possibility of privatizing county airports.

He was also attacked by Oxnard residents, who said he was trying to sneak a regional airport into the county while ignoring their concerns.

In July, a committee formed by the Oxnard Airport Authority to develop a five-year mission statement instead called for closing the facility by 2005. The vote drew criticism from county officials. The committee quickly retreated, saying it had no real authority to close anything.

Murphy said he was warned before taking the job that issues surrounding the airports are political.

"Politics are politics and you learn to work with that," he said.

The outgoing administrator did express frustration over being unable to convince people there were no plans to expand Oxnard's airstrip into a regional airport.

"A lot of it is a misperception about what we were trying to accomplish and we couldn't break that perception," he said.

Despite the difficulty, Murphy says he isn't soured on public airports. In fact, he said, he is looking at some airport administrative jobs in Victorville and other places.

"The issues will be the same but there will be new faces, new scenery," he said.

He counts among his top accomplishments reducing the vacancy rates from 30% to 3% at Camarillo Airport and a new $1-million runway going in this year.

Murphy has a long history in aviation, beginning with the Marines in Vietnam. After the war, he spent 13 years as an air traffic controller and supervisor across California with the Federal Aviation Administration.

A pilot himself, Murphy also served two five-year stints as airport director in Fullerton and Riverside.

Murphy oversaw 32 employees and a $10.7-million budget at the Oxnard and Camarillo airports, Hufford said.

He will leave his job Sept. 10 and efforts to replace him will begin next month. The annual top-range salary for the job is $100,469. Scott Smith, deputy director of the airports, will take over while a replacement is being found.

"Rod was an individual committed to the best interests of the airport," said Oxnard City Councilman Tom Holden, who lives near the airport. "He was very professional with the way he handled the job."

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