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The allegory of the aviation director

Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Once upon a time in a world-class city, someone wanted to dump the aviation director.

No, said the aviation director. I’m not going. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve done a good job.

Furthermore, he said, be careful. I have powerful friends.

And sure enough, the next time the legislature met, it snatched the airport away from the world-class city.

It will be better this way, the legislature said. There won’t be any “politics” involved anymore. We will bring in 13 wise souls to oversee the airport and make sure the aviation director won’t be fired.

For decades, the world-class city had nurtured the airport. It had become one of the busiest airports in the world. It was worth $2 billion. It had many beautiful parking garages.

Losing the airport made the world-class city angry. There were quarrels with the legislature and with the aviation director’s powerful friends.

Lawsuits bloomed and billable hours ensued.

Even though they were grown-ups, all sorts of nonsense was spoken on both sides.

Some said that a feud might scare off the airport’s monopoly airline, which actually loved the airport and its thrifty fees.

Some said that the 13-wise-soul arrangement ensured tranquility, even though the same setup had sparked arguments in a nearby city.

One day, the legislature declared that the fight was over and it would get its way. Then the aviation director told the world-class city he didn’t work for them anymore; he worked for the 13 wise souls.

But the world-class city had powerful friends too. It got a judge to stop the legislature from taking away the airport at the last second. And the aviation director, who had been there a long time and who had done a good job, was frozen out.

It was a world-class mess.

A few weeks later, something magical happened. Though the aviation director didn’t work for the world-class city anymore, the world-class city continued to pay his salary.

Though the legislature didn’t succeed in taking the airport, it did succeed in creating him a job overseeing it. He had become director of a phantom airport, a lovely, magical, invisible thing that he could direct without anyone telling him what to do.

And this, children, is why you should be careful about picking fights. Try to work things out first. Otherwise, you might just find yourself stuck with a dream job.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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