TAMPA — Sam Rashid, one of the most active and influential Republican activists in Hillsborough County, received an appointment to the Hillsborough County Aviation board from Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.
The board oversees Tampa International Airport. But Rashid says he will focus on upholding the legacy of the former chairman of the board, Steve Burton, who died at 52 in April 2013.
"He was one of my closest friends," said Rashid, 52. "I think his legacy was promoting a world-class airport and making sure it was run in a very above-board manner and being run without any cronyism.
"I think Steve Burton's legacy was also to bring more international business to the airport. I think Steve's legacy was ensuring that there's accountability in just about everything he put his hand into."
Burton joined the Aviation Authority in 2009 and was elected chairman in 2011. He pushed for TIA to expand its portfolio of international destinations, helped usher out the old CEO and sparked the effort to bring in current CEO Joe Lopano. The airport has since added direct overseas flights to Cuba, Switzerland and Panama.
Rashid joins the board as TIA is about to embark on another initiative Burton helped bring to fruition: a $943 million plan to expand, renovate and upgrade the airport. It is the largest public infrastructure project in the bay area.
Rashid has served on several public boards in his career, but this will be his first stint on a board in at least a decade.
"My goal is to try and sit and listen," he said, "and to figure out where we are as an airport and as an authority, give advice when asked, and give opinions when needed."
Rashid has called East Hillsborough home since he was 19. He is a Valrico resident, the father of two adult children and CEO of a Plant City company, Holtec USA, which is the American arm of a German manufacturer of specialized sawing equipment. He also owns businesses and properties in the area.
He fills the seat vacated by Tampa attorney Martin Garcia, who abruptly resigned in May after 10 months on the board. Garcia clashed with other airport officials on financial transparency issues and the funding projections behind the expansion plan.
"I was very sad to see him leave," Rashid said.
He applied last year for one of the board's openings but said he wasn't looking to fill Garcia's seat. Then, Scott called him.
"The governor reached out to me a couple of days back and asked me if I would be interested," Rashid said. "I told him if I could make a difference, if I could make sure Steve Burton's legacy was followed, then I would be interested."
Chairman Robert Watkins, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, Robert I. Watkins and real estate executive Gary W. Harrod hold the other seats on the board.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter @jthalji.