Metropolitan Airports Commission Chief Status Unclear

Metropolitan Airports Commission Chairwoman Vicki Tigwell apparently has taken a job with an Australia-based telephone company, but whether she'll leave her MAC post is unclear.

Orion Telecommunications Ltd. said Tuesday that Tigwell had been named director of operations. But representatives of the MAC and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday it is unclear where the job would be located and whether Tigwell actually has accepted it.

For now, Tigwell remains chairwoman of the MAC, a post she was named to in 2003. She has not resigned and intends to reveal her plans when she returns to the United States next week, according to MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.

"It's our understanding, at least, that that's still a decision she's making," said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung.

The uncertainty about Tigwell's future comes at a key time for the MAC, which operates the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several regional airports. The commission raised its landing and gate fees nearly 18 percent this year, but its largest tenant, Northwest Airlines, is reorganizing in bankruptcy and is expected to seek reduced fees and lease payments. Northwest also owes the commission approximately $269 million on a loan taken out in 1992.

Hogan said the commission would weather the loss of Tigwell if she leaves. The commission sets policy and approves budgets and contracts, but the airport is run by a full-time staff, he said. "Whatever the chairwoman decides, it's not going to leave the MAC in the lurch."

If Tigwell does join Orion, the work shouldn't be particularly novel. Her ties to the company date to its inception in the latter 1990s and, until 2004, she served as a director of one of Orion's largest shareholders.

Tigwell's involvement in the telephone business has not been without controversy. The involvement of Tigwell, Pawlenty and other prominent Minnesota Republicans with New Access Communications was the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Pioneer Press in 2003. New Access agreed in May 2004 to pay $2 million to settle allegations that it cheated consumers in Minnesota and nine other states.

Tim Huber can be reached at thuber@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5580.


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