Fla. airport offer to George not 'done deal' yet

The South Florida job offer and $35,000 pay raise for the Allegheny County Airport Authority's executive director are far from a done deal, said the officials who must ratify it.

Three other airport executives were offered and accepted the job to run Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in the past four months -- only to reject the position or have Broward County officials rescind the offer.

One candidate -- Little Rock National Airport Deputy Director Ronald Mathieu -- almost got the job twice but withdrew from contention, citing personal reasons.

Kent George, 60, of Ohio Township, has run Pittsburgh International Airport since 1998. He said Thursday that he has been offered the $250,000-a-year job and would accept it if a contract agreement can be reached.

He declined to comment Friday, acknowledging through Airport Authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny that the process isn't finished.

"We don't know a whole lot about (George) as of yet," said Josephus Eggelletion Jr., mayor of Broward County, where the airport is located. The county administrator, Pam Brangaccio, informed commissioners only Thursday that she selected George for the job.

"The thing that I think is in front of the commission at this point is whether or not she has viewed any applicants, or whether this person is the first person who's put his name in the hat" since the last job offer fell through in late July, Eggelletion said. George said Thursday that he didn't seek the job.

George has drawn praise from local officials for steering Pittsburgh International through the collapse of the US Airways hub there. He helped attract low-cost airlines to the airport, which often is ranked as one of the country's best. Before coming to Pittsburgh, he managed airports in Moline, Ill., Reading and Harrisburg.

In May, the American Association of Airport Executives gave George its Distinguished Service Award.

Still, Allegheny County won't try to match the salary that Broward County has offered George, said Kevin Evanto, spokesman for county Chief Executive Dan Onorato. George has not asked the county to do so, Evanto said.

Until George finalizes a deal for the Florida job, Allegheny County officials won't start searching for his replacement, Evanto said.

"It's not a done deal," Evanto said. "If it happens, we'll put together a search committee."

The Fort Lauderdale airport has experienced a tumultuous year. Located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the airport is in the middle of the country's fifth-largest metropolitan area and is on track to host about 22 million passengers this year -- about twice Pittsburgh International's traffic.

The airport is undergoing a $1.2 billion renovation, including a $694 million runway expansion, which has drawn vehement protests from those who live nearby. The last full-time director, Tom Jargiello, who spent three years as chief counsel for Pittsburgh International Airport, resigned in October.

One candidate to replace him, Richard Walsh, lost his job offer after the Miami Herald printed e-mails in which he called Broward County officials "clueless" and said the airport had a $13 million deficit.

In a March e-mail posted online by The Herald, Walsh -- who also worked at Pittsburgh International -- alluded to George being in line for the job and expressed interest in taking over Pittsburgh International if George would win the Florida job.

The failure to find a replacement and the drama surrounding the search -- all at a time when so much money is in play -- has created tension between county commissioners and Brangaccio, the county administrator.

Some said they were caught off-guard by Brangaccio's announcement that she had chosen George. After the last candidate declined the job offer, Brangaccio and the commissioners decided to hire a corporate recruiter to find an airport director.

"We had a process. Then all of a sudden I get a call from the county administrator saying she's filled the position," said Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom Jr.

George appears to fit the criteria for the job, Rodstrom said, but added he knows little about him.

"I think that the commission would like to ... see if he's the right fit for us," Rodstrom said, adding that he hopes a decision is made about George within a month. "I don't think it's a done deal until the county commissioners vote for him."