July 11, 2008

Bradenton, Fla., Airport Chief’s Contract is Debated

By Sara Kennedy, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Jul. 10--After a heated discussion, the airport board Wednesday delayed action on a proposed contract for airport chief Rick Piccolo after three board members complained they felt rushed and wanted more time to consider it.

The four-year contract would have continued Piccolo's $196,285 annual salary but without some of the valuable perks from his current contract, such as cash bonuses and an automatic annual 6 percent raise.

It called for Piccolo, who is president and chief executive officer at Sarasota-Bradenton International, to buy the $425,000 Sarasota residence the authority currently provides him free.

Piccolo said he was ready to sign it.

A Bradenton Herald comparison last year of salary and benefits of heads at other similarly sized airports showed that Piccolo's salary tops them by a considerable margin. And when it comes to some benefits, his current contract even bests counterparts at larger airports, the survey showed.

Piccolo's existing contract expires in December, and the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, which oversees the airport, was trying to negotiate a new one.

The proposed contract, negotiated by Commissioner Eric Robinson, said Piccolo would no longer get automatic annual increases. Any raises would be based upon his annual performance evaluation.

The contract also calls for:

--A cash bonus provision to be eliminated during the second year of the agreement.

--Piccolo would purchase the Sarasota residence at appraised fair market value, with the authority holding the mortgage at 4.6 to 6.01 percent interest.

A report addressed to Piccolo from a Baltimore executive search firm found the median salary for the director/CEO for 10 airports, plus SRQ, ranges from $212,000-$245,000, but at least one of the airports included was much larger than SRQ.

The board initially deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to table the proposed contract to an unspecified date. Then, following a lengthy debate, it voted to table it until its next meeting on Aug. 25 and in the meantime, to set a workshop session for July 28 to more thoroughly discuss it.

Commissioners Paul Sharff, Kathy Baylis and Leslie Wells wanted more time to review the proposal, which was not listed on the day's agenda. Commissioners Robinson, John Redgrave and Jack Rynerson were ready to approve it.

"This motion should be tabled until we can do a workshop," said Sharff. "Before we make a decision, we owe it to the community for us to all talk about it."

His view was shared by Wells, who said she had not yet seen a copy of Piccolo's existing contract, and Baylis, who said, "I believe this is one of the most important things this board does, it establishes the relationship we have with the CEO."

Robinson urged the board to approve the proposed pact immediately because "I was able to extract a lot from Mr. Piccolo." Later, he said he feared if the matter were delayed for a workshop, the concessions he had won would disappear.

Redgrave wanted immediate approval, saying only one issue concerned him -- the free house.

"Get the house out of the picture completely, and to me, all the rest of it is fine," he said.

Rynerson wanted to approve, saying, "We have an outstanding CEO who has managed to do for the airport things others have not been able to accomplish."

Piccolo told the board the house was included in his contract "because the board wanted me here," adding, "I have always done what the board wanted me to do." He offered to buy it in an effort to be considerate, adding, "I think I was more than fair."

That comment set off Sharff, who noted angrily many people are out of work right now, "and you act like we owe you."


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