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Wife of TIA planning director co-owns firm bidding on terminal renovation

Members of the board that oversees Tampa International Airport were shocked last week to learn the airport's construction chief was in a position to influence their decisions to award contracts to a company where his wife works.

But they didn't get the whole story about Jacqueline Russo's role at Gresham, Smith and Partners, a design and consulting firm headquartered in Nashville.

Interim airport director John Wheat told members Thursday that the wife of Louis Russo, the airport's senior director for planning and development, ''works for Gresham Smith … works for an office outside the state.'' An airport spokeswoman said she was a designer.

Jacqueline Russo is also part owner of the firm, according to a press release the company published in May. She identifies herself as a principal in Gresham Smith on the online networking site LinkedIn. A call to Russo's home wasn't returned Monday evening.

Louis Russo sat on a staff committee that ranked project proposals by Gresham Smith and other firms before board members awarded the contract, said Wheat.

He stopped the practice earlier this year, Wheat said, but employees who worked for Russo continued to serve on the review panel.

"If she just works for (the firm), it's a gray area, '' said board chairman Al Austin on Monday. "But if she has ownership, that would be a clear conflict of interest.''

Gresham Smith was the top-ranked firm to design a $7.9 million renovation of the airport's main terminal. Board members threw out the results Thursday and put other scheduled contract awards on hold until incoming executive director Joseph Lopano arrives Jan. 1.

Gigi Rechel, the airport's general counsel, has talked with Lopano and expects to give the board a memo today on his plans for policy changes and moving ahead with pending contracts, said spokeswoman Christine Osborn.

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

Wife of TIA planning director co-owns firm bidding on terminal renovation 11/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 8, 2010 9:59pm]
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