Gov. Rick Scott is expected any day to fill a final vacancy on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority — an appointment that comes at a critical time for the airport and in the region's job development efforts. The airport is moving quickly to attract more cross-country and international flights, improve the passenger experience and become a bigger player in attracting new industry to the Tampa Bay area. The governor should look for an appointee who understands the local landscape and the broad role the airport plays, and thinks regionally and embraces the public interest as a member of the public agency's governing board.
Scott appointed Tampa lawyer Martin Garcia to the board last week to fill the seat left by the airport board's former chairman, Tampa attorney Steve Burton, who died unexpectedly in April. That leaves 21 applicants for the seat held until Monday by Dr. Joseph Diaco, who announced last week he would not seek another term on the board. The talent pool includes some strong names from government and business, such as former Hillsborough County Commissioner Tom Scott, Tampa businessman Sandy MacKinnon and the former commander of MacDill Air Force Base, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chip Diehl. This rich applicant pool speaks to the airport's reputation and to the excitement that has built over the past several years to expand Tampa International's profile.
The governor has a healthy mix of people with the business sense and civic experience to work effectively on the board and in the sunshine as Florida's open government laws require. It is time to tap that competence. The airport has embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign for new nonstop flights, upgraded the facility to accommodate more passenger traffic and adopted a long-range plan that includes a rail line to and from the airport property. These are forward-looking investments that need to be capably managed. TIA also has stepped up under the new leadership of chief executive Joe Lopano to sell the airport as a regional economic gateway for tourism and business alike.
Burton was the chief architect of this change in direction, and his death leaves a major void. The governor should look for an appointee who shares Burton's vision of a dynamic airport. The next few years will be critical to seeing through the marketing plan and the new construction. In looking at the applicants, the governor should also consider the civic contributions each has already made. The board will be busy, and this community needs a committed leader who will put the necessary time and mental energy into the job.