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Heavy Traffic at BOI

Boise airport loses a police chief, will gain several leaders

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Soon, a new soldier might grace the entrance to the Boise Airport, even as an older one leaves the terminal.

Airport Police Chief Mike Johnson retired after 32 years of public service last week, with applause and congratulations from fellow officers and members of the Boise City Council. The day before, the Airport Commission agreed to pursue the installation of a new statue of a soldier--at a cost of about $100,000--to stand opposite the existing statue of a firefighter at the entrance to the terminal.

These are heady times at the airport. The police force Johnson leaves is about to be folded into the Boise Police Department, according to several people involved in the decision-making process.

"It seems like a foregone conclusion," said Elizabeth Duncan, spokeswoman for Mayor Dave Bieter. City Council members Vern Bisterfeldt, David Eberle and Jim Tibbs agreed with Duncan's assessment. Likewise Lynn Hightower, BPD spokeswoman, said she expects the department to begin the challenge of folding the Boise Airport's 30-plus officers, at a budget of about $1.8 million, into the city's department as soon as they get the official nod from the council and the mayor's office.

"We are anticipating that the council will recommend that we provide some supervisory role there," Hightower said.

It won't be easy. The Boise police force is already 20 short of the 289 officers the department is authorized to have.

"Every unit is a little bit short," said Hightower, who added that to pick up the slack from the empty positions, the department is racking up overtime hours and trying to spread the extra work across the department. Add to that the complexity of the airport police job--in addition to regular law enforcement, that agency also deals with federal transportation security issues and agencies--and the next several months will be challenging for BPD.

As if that weren't transition enough, the airport is about to get a new director, to replace John Anderson, who resigned suddenly in August after more than 16 years with the airport. Anderson, who was making $114,491 when he left--making him the highest-paid city employee, according to the Mayor's Office--is now the general manager of the McCall airport.

Last week the commission met with three possible replacements: Michael Feeley, the director of airport systems for the city of Forth Worth, Texas; Michael LaPier, the manager of the St. George, Utah Municipal Airport; and Thomas Noan, the assistant director of airports in Wichita, Kansas. All three met with Bieter, and a decision is expected soon.

Several speakers at Johnson's sendoff said they expected to see the former chief, who is 52, "reinvent" himself again, as he has done throughout his career. Over the years Johnson has been the Ada County Coroner, an Ada County Commission member, and the U.S. Marshal for Idaho. The next availability someone like Johnson might have is in Boise city elections next year: three council seats and the mayor's office will all be up for re-election.

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