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Former TIA director Louis Miller to run Atlanta's airport

Just months after leaving Tampa International amid controversy, former executive director Louis Miller has landed a new job.

A big one.

Starting later this month, he'll run the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

"I am confident that the airport's safety, security and amenities will improve dramatically,'' Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said about hiring Miller. "I look forward to working with him to grow the airport's international cargo operations and to complete construction of the international terminal."

Miller replaces longtime director Ben DeCosta, who retired in June after Reed did not offer him a new contract.

Reed cited Miller's two decades of experience running major airports, first in Salt Lake City, then nearly 14 years in Tampa. His long experience in both cities with Delta Air Lines, long a power player in Atlanta, was also a big plus.

The world's largest carrier since merging with Northwest Airlines in 2008, Delta operates a huge connecting hub at the Atlanta airport and controls nearly three-quarters of passenger traffic. Its headquarters sits just outside the perimeter fence.

Miller, 62, expects to start Sept. 27 and will earn $221,000 a year — $32,294 less than his salary in Tampa.

"It's not about the money,'' he said. "It's an opportunity to come into the largest airport in the world and add to my career. What a great way to finish it off."

Miller abruptly submitted his resignation in February after conflicts with members of TIA's board of directors. The friction started when new member Steve Burton pushed through a new panel — chaired by himself — to direct airport marketing efforts toward attracting new airline routes.

Other critical news stories followed: Miller planned to tear down an abandoned reservations center without informing most board members; a staff committee reviewed contract proposals in violation of the state open meetings law; height variances for structures in flight approaches to the airport were issued improperly for years.

The controversies arose after years of positive reviews for TIA. Under Miller, TIA consistently won awards from fliers, including third place this year for customer satisfaction among mid-size airports from J.D.Power and Associates.

The aviation authority also ranked in the top 60 places to work and the top 10 in the large employer category, according to a survey earlier this year commissioned by the St. Petersburg Times of almost 17,000 employees from businesses and organizations throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, a fan of Miller, said Monday that the fireworks resulted from bad chemistry between the veteran director and new board members. "Sometimes things that didn't used to be an issue become an issue,'' she said.

Miller's wife, Cyndy Miller, works for Iorio as growth management and development services director. She said she plans to leave her $146,000 job overseeing zoning, historic preservation, code enforcement and other departments for Atlanta after city elections in March.

Miller's new job helps wipe the slate clean for everyone, Burton said. "It's a great opportunity in Atlanta for him,'' Burton said. "And we in Tampa have a great opportunity to take a new direction without him.''

Atlanta officials are eager to move ahead with a new international terminal and plans for long-term future growth that will change how the airport operates by creating new entry and exit points for the concourses.

Meanwhile, Tampa International's board members will interview four finalists to permanently replace Miller on Wednesday and Thursday in one-on-one, closed-door sessions. One candidate, former Detroit Metropolitan Airport chief executive director Lester Robinson, 58, lost out to Miller for the Atlanta job.

The other three TIA candidates are:

•?Kent George, 63, director of aviation for Broward County, which operates the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

•?Kevin Dillon, 54, chief executive of T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I.

•?Joseph Lopano, 55, executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The entire board is scheduled to pick one for TIA's top job at its Oct. 7 meeting.

TIA's interim director John Wheat didn't make the cut when a consultant narrowed the field to four. Documents released Monday in response to a public records request by the St. Petersburg Times included an investigation into Wheat in 2006 for personal relations with another employee of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

The agency's human resources director concluded the relationship violated the agency's fraternization and nepotism polices, even if at the time it was just a close friendship and not sexual.

Theresa Rocco agreed to resign her job in the authority's development and planning department. Rocco and Wheat, at the time Miller's deputy, now are married, said airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan.

Wheat could not be reached for comment.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384. Information from ajc.com was used in this report.

What's next for TIA

Board members will interview four finalists Wednesday and Thursday. The board is scheduled to make its pick at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Former TIA director Louis Miller to run Atlanta's airport 09/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 1:03am]
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