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Allegheny

Pittsburgh International Airport CEO's $146K bonus draws transparency concerns

| Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 5:00 p.m.
Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority skirted the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act when its board of directors awarded CEO Christina Cassotis a $146,020 performance bonus during a closed-door meeting this month, a media law expert said.

Cassotis' contract says she is eligible to receive a performance bonus of at least 15 percent of her salary each year.

Her 2017 base salary was $325,000. The bonus is about 45 percent of that. Cassotis received a $46,020 bonus last year for her 2016 performance. This year's bonus represents a $100,000 increase from the previous year's.

Authority board members authorized Chairman David Minnotte to assess Cassotis' performance.

“The CEO was entitled to a minimum of 15 percent based on last year's contract with no board discretion,” Solicitor Jeff Letwin said in a statement provided Wednesday by authority spokesman Bob Kerlik. “The board then gave the chairman authority to assess her performance and make the determination as to any bonus in excess of the minimum.”

Even though the contract says Cassotis is eligible for a performance bonus each year, the Sunshine Act requires the board to vote on the amount in open session, with an opportunity for public comment, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania News Media Association.

“They can discuss the details in private, but the vote has to be public,” Melewsky said.

The authority is considered a public agency, which is covered by the act, Melewsky said. No exemption exists that would have allowed the board to award the bonus in private.

Minnotte said he awarded the bonus because he is amazed by the progress Cassotis has made at the airport.

“I've been privileged to serve on this board since 2004, through multiple administrations,” Minnotte said in a statement. “I've seen Pittsburgh International at its best and worst and now, with an entirely different vision and direction thanks to the leadership of Christina Cassotis and the team that she has put together.”

Minnotte said Pittsburgh International and the Allegheny County Airport “are performing at the highest levels we've seen in more than a decade. Passenger satisfaction scores have improved each year for three years under her leadership. Non-airline revenue is up more than 6 percent. Pittsburgh International served more than 8.9 million passengers last year, an 8.2 percent increase and the highest passenger total in more than a decade . The number of nonstop destinations has doubled during her tenure — from 37 to 74 — and multiple new airlines have started service while existing carriers have added more flights. And to top it all off, we finished the year under budget.”

Minnotte attributed the “incentive performance payment” and the airport's success to Cassotis' leadership.

Cassotis' 2018 base salary is $344,720. Her contract also provides her a $10,000 retention bonus at the end of each year.

Cassotis' gross pay in 2017 was $478,708, including a $46,020 performance bonus, a $10,000 retention bonus and $78,000 in retirement contributions, Kerlik said.

No local, state or federal tax dollars are used for Cassotis' compensation, Kerlik said.

Before the bonus, Cassotis was the highest-paid county-affiliated employee.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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