Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa International Airport executive resigns amid conflict of interest inquiry

Lou Russo, a top executive at Tampa International Airport, resigned Tuesday amid an investigation into potential conflicts of interest in the airport's procurement procedures.

TIA's senior director for planning and development, Russo had been under scrutiny since officials disclosed at an airport board meeting last month that his wife worked for a company competing for an airport contract.

Russo decided to pursue other job opportunities and believed it was time to leave before a new executive director, Joseph Lopano, arrives in January, said his attorney, Benjamin H. Hill III of Tampa. He said the investigation will show Russo didn't do anything wrong.

"It's a shame all this happened at this time," Hill said. "The timing made it look like he's running away from something. But that's not it at all."

Russo, 52, had worked nearly 13 years at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and was earning $156,000 a year.

A staff committee ranked Gresham, Smith and Partners of Nashville as the best among 15 firms vying to design a $7.9 million renovation of the main terminal. On Nov. 4, the board was ready to award the contract when interim director John Wheat disclosed that Jacqueline Russo was employed in the design firm's Tampa office.

Board members were upset to learn about Russo's connection to Gresham Smith so late. They threw out the rankings, froze any more contract awards and abruptly adjourned their meeting.

Russo wasn't on the committee and no one said he influenced anyone who voted. But five of six panel members were his subordinates.

Russo did vote on earlier panels that evaluated proposals by Gresham Smith, Wheat said. He told Russo to stop after Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, a board member, privately raised objections earlier this year.

Outside counsel David Smith launched an investigation three weeks ago to find out if staff members followed the state's ethics law and aviation authority policies in evaluating contract proposals. He is expected to give board members his findings at their next meeting on Dec. 9.

Jacqueline Russo is a senior associate and principal in Gresham Smith's corporate and urban design division. She has no role in airport projects at Tampa International or elsewhere, the company says.

Lou Russo was a prized executive, earning the agency's top performance rating in 2009 from John Wheat, then deputy to former executive director Louis Miller.

Wheat cited a long list of accomplishments, including Russo's work with state transportation officials on the airport interchange and resolving the collapse of a concrete canopy at a parking garage. A contractor fixed the damage at no cost to the airport.

Miller, who now leads Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, concurred in the evaluation. "You do a great job for the Aviation Authority and I really appreciate your efforts!'' he wrote.

Russo, a Tampa native who graduated from Robinson High School and the University of Florida, was a construction manager for Barnett Bank when the aviation authority hired him as the airport's construction manager in 1998.

In 2003, he was named senior director of planning and development. Since then, he had overseen all major construction at Tampa International and three general aviation airports the authority owns in Hillsborough County.

Russo applied for the executive director job after Miller resigned in March following conflicts with some board members. An executive search firm didn't include him among five finalists for the position.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (727)893-8128.

Tampa International Airport executive resigns amid conflict of interest inquiry 11/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 12:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Marijuana extract Epidiolex helps some kids with epilepsy, study shows

    Health

    A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

    An employee checks a plant at LeafLine Labs, a medical marijuana production facility in Cottage Grove, Minn. [Associated Press (2015)]
  2. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    President Donald Trump held a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House with members of the GOP on May 4 after the House passed legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act. [Cheriss May | Sipa USA via TNS]
  3. St. Pete Economic Development Corporation lures marketing firm MXTR to town

    Economic Development

    St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation has lured its first big catch to St. Petersburg — MXTR Automation. The digital marketing company announced Wednesday that it will fill 20 "high-wage" creative positions within the next 18 months, as well as open an office in downtown St. Petersburg this year.

  4. United Airlines CEO to investors: We'll be more focused on customers

    Airlines

    CHICAGO — The CEO of United Airlines assured shareholders Wednesday that the company is doing all it can to be more customer-friendly since video surfaced of a passenger being violently ejected from a plane last month.

    Chicago Police arrest protesters after they sat down in a busy street blocking traffic outside a United Airlines shareholders meeting Wednesday, in downtown Chicago. The people who were arrested were protesting the low pay of employees of companies that provide meals and other services for United Airlines at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
[Associated Press]
  5. Humana adding 200 telemarketing jobs in Tampa Bay

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Health insurance company Humana Inc. is hiring more than 200 workers in Tampa Bay. The Louisville, Ky.-based company said Wednesday that the new positions will focus on phone sales for Humana's direct marketing services department.