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Watsonville Air Show director steps down

Modified: Thursday, Aug 29th, 2013

Watsonville Fly-In & Air Show manager Mike Hennessy has stepped down effective immediately, leaving the 49-year-old show without leadership just days before it opens, Hennessy said Wednesday.

Hennessy said he quit due to troubles with the air show’s board of directors.

“The board has had problems for years,” he said. “I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take those people anymore.”

Among other things, Hennessy said that airport manager Rayvon Williams, air boss Mark Kadrich and other board members spent weeks arguing about expanding the safety zone for the show, which would have made it possible to increase the size of the air show and add acts.

In the end organizers kept the safety zone where it was last year, Hennessy said.

“Just make a decision,” he said. “They weren’t moving fast enough.”

Kadrich, who said late Wednesday that he had not yet gotten word of Hennessy’s resignation, said those discussions are detailed and involved the Federal Aviation Administration, airport management and the air show board.

“Safety is always a number one concern at an event like this,” he said. “Those discussions are not trivial and we take them very seriously.”

In addition, Hennessy said the board cancelled a planned high-speed race along the runway just three weeks ago.

“I’m furious about that,” he said. “Here I was assuming I could do everything they said I could do.”

Hennessy also said that the board frequently went behind his back to make decisions that were his responsibility.

This included spending money on making pins and coffee cups to give away at the air show, despite the fact that it’s in debt and that organizers had to hold fundraisers such to shore up their coffers.

Moreover, board members contacted a separate organizer who worked on the car show last year and asked for his help, despite the fact that Hennessy was already working on expanding the car show.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “It was without the shadow of a doubt a downright insult.”

Hennessy said that board members called a printer to make T-shirts for the show, even though Hennessy had already done so with a separate vendor.

Still, aviation enthusiasts can still expect to see an air show this weekend.

Kadrich, who oversees the airspace and radio traffic around Watsonville and is in charge of safety during the show, said it is still a go.

“The entire board could be gone, and we would still have an air show,” he said.

Hennessy agreed.

“The fly in is still there,” he said. “It’s a good show, but it has its issues.”

Former director Theo Wierdsma stepped down in September 2012, just three weeks after that year’s air show concluded. He called his resignation a “strategic withdrawal,” and said the organization needed fresh ideas.

It was during a time when the show was suffering financially.

Hennessy took the reigns of the show in June 2013, vowing to breathe new life into it with an expanded car show.

He is an automobile repair shop owner-turned promoter who, among other things, runs the Hot San Jose Nights car show and the Car Guy Channel, an automobile-based public access show that runs throughout the Bay Area.

Board president Hank Wempe and several other board members did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

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