Burgess says he wants to name aviation director in March
By Sherri C. Ranta
Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess said Tuesday that he wants to name an aviation director by March to replace Angela Gittens, who resigned in November.
A search is under way through ads in major newspapers and aviation-related trade publications - including the Web site of the American Association of Airport Executives.
The county manager's five-month timeline calls for selection this month of an executive search firm with experience in the aviation industry.
Mr. Burgess said he will name and lead a selection committee comprised of community leaders to advise him but it is his sole responsibility to select a new aviation director. Once the county manager makes an appointment, the Board of County Commissioners will review the director's contract if one is involved.
The selection committee, Mr. Burgess said, will be comprised of five to seven business leaders "who have a direct stake in the strong, professional growth, development and management of our aviation system." The committee, whose membership was not named as of Tuesday, is expected to convene in January.
Mr. Burgess outlined the recruitment process in a memo to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioners.
"The need for a real, open, broad recruitment process is self-evident," he said Tuesday. "We want to have a highly qualified professional in the job."
Assistant County Manager Carlos Bonzon is serving as interim aviation director after being named to the post by Mr. Burgess after Ms. Gittens' resignation in November, following a dispute with American Airlines. Mr. Burgess had removed her from the expansion project at Miami International.
Mr. Bonzon said he resisted applying for the permanent position but is being encouraged by some community leaders to reconsider. He said Monday that he has not made a decision.
"I don't want to put the manager in a difficult position. We have to find the best person for such an important asset."
Mr. Bonzon was assistant county manager for surface transportation when he was named to his current post. Before that, he was a deputy director in the aviation department, overseeing the $4.8 billion capital-improvement program at Miami International Airport. He was appointed by then-county manager Merrett Stierheim before the 2001 hiring of Ms. Gittens.
Mr. Bonzon recently named veteran civil engineer and air-industry veteran John W. Cosper deputy director of Miami International's capital-improvement program. Mr. Cosper started work Dec. 1.
Mr. Burgess said he is looking for a highly qualified pool of candidates interested in a challenge. The county's aviation director oversees operations at Homestead General, Kendall-Tamiami Executive and Opa-locka airports as well as Miami International.
"We want somebody excited by the challenge of it," he said, "not someone that is afraid of it."
When asked if the departure of Ms. Gittens, well-respected in the aviation industry, could cause some qualified candidates to shy away from applying, Mr. Burgess said that would be a mistake. "Anybody worth their weight in aviation," he said, "will research the issues."
Mr. Burgess said he has "a great deal of respect for and liked Angela." Their differences were "purely management-related," Mr. Burgess said.
"She made the decision to move on," he said. "It had nothing to do with political interference."
The county manager put Ms. Gittens, former general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, on "management watch" earlier this year and stripped her of her authority as supervisor of the airport's expansion. She resigned shortly thereafter.
Her public positions in Miami often were contrary to those held by her boss and county commissioners.
Ms. Gittens wanted to reduce American Airlines' authority over the $1.5 billion North Terminal project, citing budgetary overruns and time delays, and give control back to the aviation department. She also supported the creation of an independent panel to run the airports.
According to the recruitment schedule, a five-member search committee of senior county executives will evaluate and rank proposals submitted by executive search firms responding to a county request for qualifications issued in mid-November. A selection will be made from the top three firms in mid-December.
The selection committee is scheduled to meet in January. Mr. Burgess said he hopes finalists will be selected in February.