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"Editorial: Reform is fleeting at Detroit Metro airport"
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Editorial: Reform is fleeting at Metro airport
Original airport authority board replaced by Ficano aides and allies
The Detroit (MI) News
Detroit Metro Airport is a fine example of the fleeting nature of government
reform. Nearly 10 years ago, former Gov. John Engler and the late Wayne
County Executive Edward McNamara agreed to create an independent authority
to run the airport, ending years of corruption and cronyism that had turned
the facility into a cash machine for the campaigns of county politicians.
The pair did an excellent job of selecting a board that was not likely to
allow politics to influence decision making. The appointees included Jim
Nicholson, chairman of PVS Chemicals, industrialist David Treadwell and
Wayne Doran, a Ford Motor Co. vice president.
They quickly chased the parasites from the airport and established sound
business principles for its operation.
But the apolitical nature of the airport board lasted no longer than the
staggered terms of the original appointees.
Today, the seven-member board is made up entirely of appointees who have
deep ties to Wayne County government.
Five of the seven members have either worked for Wayne County or had
business contracts with the county.
A sixth is a labor representative who sits on Ficano's charitable foundation
board, and the seventh is a member of the Wayne County Commission.
There's not a single, independent member appointed from outside the
So it's not surprising that when it came time to select a new airport
director, the board chose Turkia Mullin, Ficano's economic development
director who is close to both the county executive and his chief deputy,
Two of the airport authority members served on county economic development
boards that worked with Mullin.
As The Detroit News reported, Mullin was selected over five other candidates
with airport management experience and despite having difficulties while she
was a private practice attorney.
The authority insists Mullin was picked because of her economic development
prowess, although Ficano appears to have greatly inflated the results of her
work with the county.
Those who have worked with her at the airport praise her aggressiveness and
She is at the center of a controversy because she was awarded $200,000 in
severance pay when she quit the county to take the higher-paying job at the
airport, and secured $15,000 in severance for her secretary.
Both have pledged to return the money.
Responsibility for the payments rests with Ficano. It was extremely poor
judgment, at the least. But Mullin, who requested the payouts, is not
The stench of cronyism raised by the severance payments taints Mullin's
appointment as airport director by a board that is so heavily beholden to
Mullin's appointment ought to be reviewed in light of the severance scandal,
but Ficano's airport authority is not likely to take up that task.
So it looks as if we'll have to wait for Gov. Rick Snyder to replace former
Gov. Jennifer Granholm's appointees with less politically motivated members
as their terms expire.
That'll take time. This whole business proves again that government reform
lasts only as long the reformers hold office.
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