Hillsborough County Aviation Authority seeks to hire in-house attorney

Published Feb. 27, 2015

TAMPA — Outside legal advice won't fly at Tampa International Airport.

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, has relied on outside legal counsel since the abrupt resignation in October of its former attorney, Gigi Rechel. But during a workshop Thursday, the board decided to go back in-house for legal work and hire an attorney to serve as its next general counsel.

The board made it clear this new position will serve both the board and the airport's CEO, Joe Lopano. Board members said that in the past it wasn't clear which of them Rechel was actually serving.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who sits on the airport board, said the next attorney would have to be more transparent and accountable to both the board and the CEO.

"I never really felt that Gigi Rechel worked for me as a board member," Crist said. "I always felt that she worked for you, Joe.''

Rechel resigned while she was being investigated by the Florida Bar to see whether she violated Florida's public records law. The status of that investigation was not known Thursday.

By hiring someone in-house to replace Rechel, who made about $210,000 a year, the authority agreed to continue operating under the same general counsel structure but left room for updating its policy regarding matters like transparency.

David Smith of the law firm GrayRobinson offered legal advice to the authority after Rechel's resignation and will continue to do so until it hires a new attorney. Smith was present at the workshop and recommended that the board hire a full-time attorney, but said he'll save his opinions on policy for a later date.

"I did not address the policies, because it was important to see where the board wanted to go," Smith said.

Lopano agreed with the board about structure and listened to its concerns about who the attorney would answer to.

"I just want to continue on efficiently and without disruption," Lopano said, "because we've got a lot of heavy lifting coming in the next five to six months."

Contact Rachel Crosby at or (813) 226-3400. Follow @rachelacrosby.