Kenneth Johnson resigned Dec. 13 from his job as deputy director of Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. On Christmas, he sent a letter to members of the airport’s governing commission, saying he was mistreated during his 3 1/2 years at the Albany airport. (Albany Herald file photo)
ALBANY — Southwest Georgia Regional Airport Director Yvette Aehle said Thursday she was stunned by the tone of a long, detailed letter that former Deputy Airport Director Kenneth Johnson sent to members of the Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission and City Manager James Taylor on Christmas evening.
Johnson, who resigned from his position on Dec. 13 after 3 1/2 years at the Albany airport, accused Aehle of “humiliating treatment” during his tenure and hinted at racial favoritism by the airport director.
“I wrote this letter to inform you of what I endured during my three and a half years of working at the airport,” Johnson wrote. “I am doing this because I do not want to see another Airport Deputy Director treated like this or have to go through this type of treatment from the Airport Director.
“I think it is time the city performs a thorough investigation into why an airport executive with almost 19 years of airport management experience come(s) to Albany and leave(s) after three and a half years. I hope that this is a catalyst for change at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.”
Aehle said Johnson’s letter caught her off guard.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said after reading a copy of the letter. “Obviously, (Johnson) has been upset for the last couple of years. What I don’t understand is why he didn’t come to me at some point and say we had a problem.
“Obviously, I can’t comment on any human resources-related matters, but there are things in that letter that I don’t remember the same way.”
Johnson said in the letter he was humiliated and bullied by Aehle and airport Administrative Secretary Elizabeth Knowles.
“I resigned due to the humiliating treatment that I have been receiving from the Airport Director since I started working here,” he wrote. “I have been humiliated in front of my staff, lied on by the Airport Director and the Administrative Secretary to Human Resources, mistreated and bullied by the Airport Director on a constant basis. I have also had my authority as an Airport Deputy Director and airport representative underminded (sic), repeatedly, by the Airport Director to my employees, tenants and outside agencies.
“This humiliation, unprofessional and retaliatory behavior of the secretary and the Airport Director, minimizing and eliminating my authorizations and responsibilities, and the constant determination to keep important airport information from me, has caused a strain on my health and well-being.”
Among the complaints Johnson outlined in the lengthy letter were his not receiving proper training in administrative work, not being informed of proper attire expected of city employees (which, he said, led to then-City Manager Alfred Lott “calling him out” at an Aviation Commission meeting), being omitted from staff meetings, being bypassed in the chain of command, receiving low evaluation scores as retaliation, and a suggestion that Knowles received favorable treatment by Aehle because both Knowles and Aehle are white and Johnson is black.
Johnson came to Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in 2010 after 19 years at Tampa International Airport. A Tennessee State University graduate in technical aeronautics/airways science, Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after being commissioned as a second lieutenant upon graduation from TSU’s ROTC program.
He started work at the Tampa airport in 1991 and was promoted to assistant director of operations in 1998. He was still in that position when he came to Albany in 2010 to “gain management experience.”
Aehle said the city has already begun its search for a deputy director to replace Johnson.
“The position (opening) is already out there,” she said. “The process can be lengthy, and I wanted to go ahead and find the right person for that slot. Every city department needs a succession plan in place, and I got permission (from Taylor) to advertise the position as soon as I received (Johnson’s) resignation letter. The last time I checked, we already had 23 applicants.”
Taylor had not returned from Christmas vacation Thursday and was unavailable for comment.