Mayor says airport adviser's hiring was her idea

2012-04-27T10:15:00Z 2012-04-27T10:30:16Z Mayor says airport adviser's hiring was her ideaBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

GARY | Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said former Indianapolis airport CEO John Clark was hired by the Gary Airport Authority at her direction, but she would like to re-examine his $350-per-hour pay rate.

"That certainly does not sound correct," she said Wednesday when asked about Clark's pay rate as approved by the Airport Authority at its meeting Monday.

The mayor has no direct control over the day-to-day operations of the airport or the authority. However, under state statute the mayor appoints four of the authority's seven members.

Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority members voted 4-0 on Monday to approve the contract with Clark's newly formed JClark Aviation Group.

Voting in favor were Nathaniel Williams, Cornell Collins and the Rev. Marion Johnson, all former Mayor Rudy Clay's appointees, and Tramel Raggs, Lake County's appointment. Robert Poparad, Porter County's appointee, abstained. Ross Amundson and Silas Wilkerson were absent. Amundson was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Wilkerson is a Clay appointee.

An unsigned version of the hiring contract obtained by The Times under an Access to Public Records request shows Clark's company also will be reimbursed for expenses of up to $200 per month in addition to the hourly reimbursement. It must receive prior written approval for any expenses above that amount.

JClark Aviation Group is limited to making no more than $5,000 per month, plus expenses, for the six-month term of the contract.

The mayor confirmed the job was not advertised for bid, nor was any request for proposals issued. That was not required because the agreement with JClark Aviation is for professional services only, she said.

The contract only will become final once it is signed by Clark and Gary Airport Authority President Nathaniel Williams. As of Thursday morning, that signing had not taken place.

Contacted on Thursday, John Clark said his three-person firm already is at work on identifying business opportunities for the Gary airport. His son, Jonathan Clark, and Al Stanley are his partners in JClark Aviation Group, he said.

"My forte in this business has been growing businesses and business development at airports," Clark said.

Clark was CEO of the Indianapolis International Airport Authority from 2009 through March of this year. Before that, he was CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, which included overseeing Jacksonville International Airport, Fla., where he managed a $500,000 terminal expansion.

JClark Aviation Group basically is being paid a retainer of $5,000 per month to do work at Gary, Clark said. He said he quoted a billable rate of $350 per hour when asked and he believes that's why it was included in the contract.

Freeman-Wilson said the Gary airport was fortunate to be getting someone with experience in working directly with major airlines, overseeing airports and supervising expansions.

"He's being hired primarily to do business development there," Freeman-Wilson said. "But also to lend his vast expertise as one that has basically built out an airport."

Clark left the Indianapolis airport's top job after the airport authority declined to renew his contract. He had been chief executive there for three years.

The Indianapolis Business Journal recently reported Clark and two others spent more than $67,000 last year on travel to destinations such as Brazil, Denmark and Morocco. Clark said all of those trips were approved by the Indianapolis Airport Authority chairman and board.

The hiring of Clark coincides with an airport marketing study being performed by international aviation consultant Landrum and Brown. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is paying the $186,000 tab for that study.

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna said he met with Clark and airport and city officials Wednesday. Hanna was assured Clark will coordinate his efforts with Landrum and Brown's, he said.

Landrum and Brown's strategic business plan for the airport was delivered to the airport authority and the RDA in 2010. The RDA and Airport Authority split the $449,732 cost of that study.

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