Metro Airport CEO will return controversial "severance package"

Sep 30, 2011

The new Detroit Metro Airport CEO says she'll return the $200,000 severance package that has erupted into a major controversy.

Both Wayne County Airport Authority CEO Turkia Awada Mullin and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano initially defended the payout to Mullin, who voluntarily left her job as Wayne County's Chief Economic Development Officer to run the airport.

But Mullin appears to have changed her mind in the wake of intense public scrutiny--and the widespread perception that the "severance" amounted to a bonus for a promotion.

Mullin wrote in a press statement released late Friday: "I spoke with Mr. Ficano this afternoon and we mutually agreed that giving the money back is the best thing to do for both the county and the airport.

"This issue has become such a significant distraction that it has interfered with our ability to focus on operations. It's time to put this behind us and get back to work."

The controversy is likely to carry on, however. Wayne County Commissioners say they never approved severance payments for Mullin or her predecessor, who also received $200,000.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“It doesn’t fit in with the notion of transparency,” Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, said today. “We’re going to ask a lot of questions.”

Woronchak said commissioners didn’t know about the payout to Mullin until they saw media accounts about it. They also didn’t know of a similar $200,000 payment to Mullin’s predecessor, Mulu Birru.

“All we received was a one-paragraph resolution saying they wanted to name her economic development director at a $200,000 salary,” Woronchak said. “It didn’t say anything about severance.”

(The Detroit News obtained a copy of the agreement in the form of an undated letter from Ficano to Mullin—see it here).

Commissioners are also concerned that the severance revelation could make bargaining with employee unions more difficult.

Wayne County imposed a 20% pay cut on its largest union, which has fought back in court. The county faces a $160 million budget deficit.