San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Placed on Budget

Friday, July 6, 2007
Airport authority puts caps on perks
Relocation benefits to be less generous
By Steve Schmidt and Craig Gustafson
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, criticized for how it spends public money, approved a policy yesterday outlining the relocation benefits offered to newly hired executives. The policy puts in writing – with some crucial changes – much of what the authority has done to woo and hire top-tier managers since it was created four years ago. By a unanimous vote, the authority board agreed to cap the number of house-hunting trips allowed for new executives to two and limit the amount of paid temporary housing provided to no more than three months.

In the past, the authority has paid for as many as five house-hunting trips for a newly hired executive and temporary housing for as long as 17 months.

The policy allows the authority to offer executives financial help with selling an out-of-town home or buying a new home here, but not both. The authority has paid about $195,000 in closing costs – such as escrow fees and title costs – since 2003.

Thella Bowens, the agency’s president and chief executive officer, was given the authority to approve exceptions to these policies.

In some cases, the authority board must also be notified of exceptions.

Board members believe the formal policy gives them the flexibility needed to continue to hire quality managers.

Robert Watkins, an executive member of the board, said the policy could be used as a reasonable tool and the board could exercise its judgment on how best to execute it.

Authority officials say the spending is needed because the competition for top employees in the aviation industry is intense.

They also cite San Diego’s expensive real estate as an obstacle many other airport agencies don’t have.

Taxpayer advocates and longtime critic state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, have cried foul. Kehoe has introduced legislation to revamp the authority and create an independent taxpayer oversight committee to monitor its spending.

The authority took control of operations at Lindbergh Field in 2003 from the San Diego Unified Port District. It doesn’t use tax dollars but collects revenue from fees that passengers, airlines and vendors pay through ticket surcharges, rent and concessions.

In May, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the authority spent $665,000 in relocation benefits to woo 10 executives to San Diego in the past four years. (And you always thought that a government job didn’t pay well………Ed)

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