EDITORIAL: Keep airport fees well-grounded

2013-05-24T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Keep airport fees well-grounded nwitimes.com
May 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Gary/Chicago International Airport has a lot riding on John Clark. The Airport Authority need to keep close tabs on what he's doing on its behalf.

Clark's record at other airports has not been without controversy.

A week before Clark left Indianapolis International Airport as CEO in March 2012, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported Clark and two assistants racked up more than $67,000 in business travel -- on the airport's dime -- in 2011, including extended trips to Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Morocco and Switzerland.

When Clark was CEO of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority in Florida from 2001 to 2009. An alternative publication there wrote about a lavish $16,939 retirement party for Clark's long-time executive assistant.

"In my span of leadership, I think I have been investigated by every possible agency out there, and never has there been any indication of wrongdoing," Clark said.

In Gary, Clark was granted a $350-per-hour consulting contract, capped at $5,000 per month, in April 2012. The hourly fee was lowered to $245 six months later, but the monthly cap was raised to $10,000. Last month, Clark was given a performance-based contract that could result in paying him $500,000 or more by this fall if he lands a public-private partnership deal for the airport.

Clark has been busy, working on the Gary airport's behalf. 

His billing records for November include time on the phone with a $170 billion global hedge fund, chatting with Chicago real estate baron Elzie Higginbottom's development company and five straight hours talking to representatives of investment banks from all over the world.

Gary/Chicago International Airport has a lot of potential already, and will have even more when the runway expansion project is completed, allowing larger planes to fly from Gary.

The Airport Authority, which now is in search of a new director, needs leadership and a new direction, Clark said.

"It takes leadership. It takes understanding what drives the economy of aviation. It takes creating a cooperative environment. It takes bringing in a healthy level of competition. It takes know-how."

That's the reason to pursue privatization of airport operations. Clark has the Airport Authority's confidence in those negotiations, as well as others, and he has connections.

With Clark's history of controversy, though, the Airport Authority needs to pay close attention to his compensation and reimbursed expenses. And hold him accountable for results commensurate with his sky-high compensation.

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