Saturday, May 7, 2016

Officials caught 'totally off guard' by Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport (KIWA) director resignation

Plans to find a new leader for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport are forming after Executive Director and CEO Jane Morris suddenly announced her resignation last week.

The regional airport's governing board — which includes officials from Phoenix, Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek, Apache Junction and the Gila River Indian Community — likely will select an interim director at a May 17 meeting, according to chairwoman and Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams.

A Republic review of board-member emails indicated Deputy Director Brian O’Neill is a probable candidate.

A formal search for a permanent director is expected to follow, though officials haven’t determined a timeline or scope for the recruitment effort, Williams said.

Morris, 56, submitted a letter of resignation April 28 after more than three years with the airport, saying she planned to focus on “time with my family and family business matters” after stepping down June 2. An airport spokesman said Morris declined to elaborate beyond her initial statement.

The notice she gave was much shorter than that of her predecessor, Lynn Kusy, who announced in September 2012 he would leave in March 2013. The national search that followed led to the selection of Morris, whose 28-year career with Phoenix had included work on aviation projects such as the PHX Sky Train and two airport master plans.

Kusy's nearly 20-year run saw the painstaking process of converting east Mesa's former Williams Air Force Base into a public airport.

Morris was charged with elevating Gateway further, positioning it to eventually serve as a reliever for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

That meant keeping existing airlines and the airport’s business community content; managing relationships with Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus and Chandler-Gilbert Community College; addressing traffic and parking challenges; and exploring and financing expansion opportunities on the fledgling airport’s east side.

“I am so very proud of the Gateway Airport Team and the accomplishments of individuals, work groups, departments and project teams,” Morris said in an email informing employees of her decision to leave. “This position has been one of the highlights of my professional career.”

Williams said Morris’ resignation caught her "totally off guard,” a sentiment echoed by other airport officials.

Although a handful of setbacks marked the beginning of Morris’ tenure — the departure of Frontier and Spirit airlines, for instance, making Allegiant Air Gateway’s only commercial carrier — Gateway continued to add destinations and draw passengers under her leadership.

In 2015, the airport served more than 1.3 million passengers, a 4 percent increase over 2014. An economic-impact study prepared by a research institute at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business found the airport supported more than 10,000 jobs.

“I think she really brought (Gateway) into this century,” Williams said. “I'm very pleased at the job she's done and sad to see her go.”

Other board members credited Morris with boosting professionalism at the airport and deftly managing a diverse and committed staff.

“It’s not that we didn’t have professionalism before, but it’s definitely gone up a couple of notches,” Gilbert Mayor and board Vice Chair John Lewis said. “There were some cases where she needed to make some changes and bring in some new team members, and she did a great job with good hires and … preparing for the future.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles, too, said “one of her legacies will be the creation of a strong organization.

“This is a critical position in our community. Gateway as a resource is one of the crown jewels of the area," Giles said.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.azcentral.com

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