Ex-airport CEO getting lofty departure pay

March 23, 2012

Departing Indianapolis Airport Authority CEO John Clark will leave his job with a year’s salary—$270,000—plus remaining unpaid vacation days.

The airport board earlier this week declined to retain Clark as his three-year employment term neared its end, saying the decision to part ways was mutual.

Clark came under fire in recent years for making numerous overseas business trips to attend airport industry conferences.

Last year alone he submitted expense forms to the authority totaling more than $31,000. Clark said much of the travel has involved his leadership roles in Airports Council International. He used the trips to lure business to the airport, he said.

The trips included an $8,300 excursion to an ACI conference in Morocco in November and a $10,000 trip in January 2011 to meet with Comlux Aviation officials in Switzerland. Comlux has been expanding its Indianapolis aircraft refurbishment base in recent years.

Indianapolis Airport Authority Board President Mike Wells on Friday said the board was mindful of Clark’s costs in moving his family from Jacksonville, Fla., to Indianapolis three years ago as part of the rationale for the departure package.

Wells, who was recently named to the board by Mayor Greg Ballard, said he was not happy with travel costs incurred by airport authority executives under Clark’s term. The top three executives last year spent more than $67,000 on travel.

Wells said he could not point to dividends stemming from the trips such as new air service, but noted that he only recently joined the board. Wells spent 16 previous years on the board over the last two decades, including a previous term as board president.

The board Friday passed a new travel policy that requires executives to receive preauthorization for overseas trips. Wells said industry best practices can be gleaned from other methods besides travel, such as from consultants.

After the meeting, Wells said Clark arrived three years ago as the airport began to deal with a high debt load for its new terminal at a time of an economic downturn that crimped revenue.

Also, the authority a few years earlier had taken over management control from BAA, the British firm it had hired during the 1990s to manage the airport.

He called Clark a “visionary” for concepts to increase revenue and improve staff capabilities. Clark had embraced a development concept in the industry known as “aerotropolis,” which involves a carefully planned use for land radiating from an airport. He’d been seeking to get surrounding government entities to get on board the effort.

While such development groundwork has been ongoing, the economy has continued to make a slow recovery. The former passenger terminal remains undeveloped four years after it was abandoned for the new midfield terminal.

Several parcels of airport property remain undeveloped, including land near the entrance eyed for a gasoline station. Many of the airport’s aviation-related facilities remain vacant, including the air side of the U.S. Postal Service’s former Eagle Air hub.

The authority's efforts to squeeze more revenue from its property have drawn the ire of Decatur Township community leaders.

At the airport’s board meeting Friday, Decatur Township representative Pat Andrews asked the board to drop its lawsuit in Marion Superior Court aimed at stopping a private firm from building a parking facility south of the airport.

Cincinnati-based Chavez Properties won approval of the Metropolitan Development Commission last month to develop a 31-acre, 3,700-space lot at the AmeriPlex commercial development that would compete with the airport’s parking facilities.

Airport and city officials had protested the private lot, saying the AmeriPlex complex received city funding for infrastructure upgrades and that a parking lot there was not appropriate and could drain airport revenue.

Andrews told the board the airport’s battle against the private parking lot operator essentially was “un-American.”

She said the lot could provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of much-needed tax revenue to Decatur Township, which has relatively little in the way of retail and restaurants. The airport has been both a blessing and curse over the years to Decatur Township in that it is exempt from paying taxes to the township.

Airport officials thanked Andrews for her presentation but did not respond to her request to drop the lawsuit.


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