TAMPA — Martin Garcia, a board member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority for less than a year, resigned unexpectedly, sending a memo to Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday afternoon.
Garcia, who was appointed to the board by the governor in June 2013, gave no reason for his resignation.
Board members, during Thursday’s regular monthly board meeting, said they had no advanced indication Garcia planned to resign.
“I got an email from him late yesterday,” Chairman Robert Watkins said. “I had no idea this was coming. He served very well. I don’t know what to think.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who also serves on the board, said he, too, was surprised to hear of the resignation when he received a copy of the letter Garcia sent to the governor. “Martin was a great board member and added a lot of value to this board. He is very thorough and gets deep in to issues and does his homework.” Buckhorn said he never sensed any conflict between Garcia and other members of the board.
Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Officer Joe Lopano, said Garcia brought financial expertise to the board and that he “served this airport well and served the community well.” He, too, expressed surprise.
There had, however, been an unresolved issue, which Garcia noted in a letter to the governor and in correspondence to the board.
In the letter to Scott, Garcia said that since joining the board, he has focused on airport finances and investments. “I genuinely hope that my service on the Authority Board has been constructive and provided some value and that my fellow board members will continue to focus on applying comparative financial metrics to evaluate publicly the operations and investments at TIA.”
Garcia did not return phone calls for comment on his resignation.
During a finance committee meeting just two days earlier, however, Garcia mentioned financial metrics. He brought up a Tampa Tribune article from March 26 that compared payrolls at the Tampa airport with Orlando International Airport, which stated that the Tampa airport’s payroll was $33.9 million in 2013 for 544 employees, compared to Orlando’s $33.2 million payroll budget for 649 employees.
Garcia stated Tuesday that the board should evaluate the airport’s management team “on how we are performing financially.” He wanted those financial metrics included in the CEO’s evaluation form. Garcia even sent an email to board members Tuesday stating that the airport director’s performance appraisal form should include financial metrics that can be compared with a set of goals for each year. Lopano responded to Garcia in a letter, saying that the airport’s human resources director had included “benchmark financial language” in the evaluation form. He cited assorted references including one taken from Orlando International Airport stating that the director should display sound judgment in managing and controlling budgets and another snipped from a San Diego International Airport form that says the director should enhance the financial position of the authority.
The board voted Thursday to approve a new evaluation form for the CEO which did not include the metrics Garcia sought. Lopano is not due for a new evaluation until September.
Garcia had also stated Tuesday that the board should be looking at Tampa International’s performance relative to job growth and population growth, among other factors. “All those economic indicators seem to be growing faster than the airport,” he said.
“As board members,” he said, “we can’t delegate our duty of oversight. One of the governor’s biggest agendas is to apply performance metrics.” Garcia suggested the board hire an investment banker to come in and conduct a comparative analysis. “I really think for us to provide the best service to the community... that is what we should do.”
“This airport ranks among the highest in the nation,” Watkins said Tuesday. “I think Tampa and the state want to keep it that way.”
Lopano commented that it is difficult to make a straight comparison between one airport and another because here, for example, the airport has its own legal and janitorial staff and Orlando outsources those services.
Garcia, who owns an investment firm, was appointed to the board June 25, replacing Chairman Steve Burton, who died in April. His term was expected to end July 1, 2017.
Garcia may be the first aviation authority board member to resign in mid-term. “It is safe to say nobody here remembers a board member abruptly resigning in mid term,” said airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps.
The five-member authority board oversees the airport and three other general aviation facilities.