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Another problem pops up at Aviation Authority

A day after longtime Tampa International Airport executive director Louis Miller announced he was resigning, another problem popped up at the agency he runs.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority will rebid two multimillion-dollar projects awarded to contractors this year because of procedural irregularities, officials confirmed Thursday.

The agency's board selected HC Beck Ltd. to expand and upgrade the airport's closed-circuit television surveillance system, an $8.1 million project. Alfonso Architects was picked as consultant to update signs and roadways along the main terminal's check-in and baggage claim areas. The project budget totals $11.6 million.

But apparently staff committees that ranked the bids failed to comply with the state's open meetings law. The panels will gather today to do the work in public.

"There was a legal issue of some sort," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who sits on the Aviation Authority board and was briefed this week by Gigi Rechel, the authority's general counsel, and David Smith, a special counsel to the board. "It had to do with public notice and requirements of the Sunshine Law."

Thursday's disclosure was the latest misstep by the authority Miller has directed for nearly 14 years. Last month, Miller was criticized for deciding to tear down the former Continental Airlines reservations center without consulting the full board.

He put the demolition on hold when a real estate broker told board member Steve Burton that he had a client, Moffitt Cancer Center, interested in leasing the building.

Then, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Miller for years approved permits for structures and construction cranes around the airport that exceeded federal height restrictions. The projects had been deemed safe by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But a 1977 state law requires that a five-member board of adjustment — not a single individual — approve the permits.

The board initially hired David Smith, a former Tampa city attorney, to look into how Miller and his staff issued the permits. But Smith has undertaken "a broader review" of how the agency conducts business, said Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission, who also sits on the authority board.

Most board members remained puzzled Thursday over what prompted Miller's abrupt resignation.

In a letter to the board, Miller said it was time for him to move on. "I sincerely believe I have accomplished the goals and objectives that were established during my tenure," he wrote members. "With this in mind, I have come to the decision to explore other opportunities."

He asked to remain though April 23 — less than the 90-day notice required in his contract — to give them time to hire an interim director and launch a search for a permanent replacement. Miller recommended that his deputy, John Wheat, serve as interim director.

Wheat will meet over the next few days with board members. They could accept Miller's resignation and appoint Wheat to the temporary job at their March 4 meeting.

Miller hopes to work with Wheat through a six-week "transitional period." But board member Joseph Diaco said Thursday he'd prefer that Miller clean out his desk as soon as Wheat takes over as interim. "I don't think you can have two masters," he said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Another problem pops up at Aviation Authority 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:28pm]
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