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Allegheny County Airport Authority finances CEO's transfer to Pittsburgh

| Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, 10:12 p.m.
New Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis was introduced during a news conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
New Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis was introduced during a news conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014.
New Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
New Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown.

Allegheny County Airport Authority officials and the agency's new CEO finalized terms of her compensation package this week, handing over moving-related expenses of more than $62,000 in addition to her $295,000 salary.

Details of the deal between the agency that runs Pittsburgh International Airport and CEO Christina Cassotis became public Friday in response to an open records request from the Tribune-Review. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in December announced Cassotis, 50, of Maine as the next head of the agency. Cassotis is a longtime Boston-area aviation consultant but has not run an airport. She began work Thursday.

She could not be reached for comment.

Her three-year contract spells out benefits including:

• Housing allowance of up to $3,000 a month for nine months;

• Utilities allowance of $500 per month for six months;

• Transportation allowance of up to $7,200 for travel between Pittsburgh and Boston airports until she and her family move to the region;

• Relocation allowance of up to $25,000 to defray moving expenses;

• An authority-issued vehicle;

• 18 months of severance if she's terminated without “just cause.”

Her salary makes her the highest-paid county-affiliated employee. Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean is second at $215,000. Cassotis replaces former CEO Brad Penrod, who made $214,465. The authority board ousted him in March amid slumping passenger numbers. CFO Jim Gill was acting executive director.

Authority solicitor Mike Wojcik said the contract is “substantially stronger” than previous CEO contracts. He pointed to a confidentiality agreement, non-compete and non-solicitation clauses that are included. If Cassotis leaves or is fired, she can't work for any business within 100 miles of Pittsburgh International Airport for two years.

“Speaking to the benefits, in this market and environment, you have to pay for it. With her experience in the aviation industry, she fit the board's wish list,” Wojcik said. “It's something she negotiated, and the board thought it was a fair price to pay to get her here. She comes with a specific and very ambitious request — she needs to grow that airport. The board is confident she's going to be successful.”

Wojcik said the benefit package is less than what she was seeking and that a company car was standard for previous CEOs.

Cassotis worked for 16 years at ICF-SH&E, a commercial aviation consulting company. Most recently, she served as vice president and managing officer for airport services there. She worked in 1998 as deputy director of communications at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Boston Logan International Airport.

Frank Gamrat, a senior research associate with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon, said increasing flights and passenger counts is difficult and demand-driven.

“They're setting the bar unrealistically high. I don't think the Airport Authority is going to get the bang for their buck they think they are.”

Fewer than 7.9 million passengers flew from the airport in 2013, its lowest total since 7.3 million people flew out of the former Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in 1975. Those figures rebounded in 2014. This week, officials announced the eighth straight month of passenger increases. Total airport passenger traffic was up 1.6 percent through November.

Separately, Fitzgerald on Friday nominated his chief of staff, Jennifer Liptak, for a seat on the authority board. She would replace Dennis Davin, the former head of Allegheny County Economic Development. Davin is leaving to take a post in Gov.-elect Tom Wolf's cabinet as secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development. County Council must confirm Liptak.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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