An Allegheny County councilman with a background in sales but none in aviation has been hired to fill a new job at Pittsburgh International Airport, where he will oversee strategies to boost air travel and service.
Vince Gastgeb, a Bethel Park Republican, will start his position as director of corporate and community relations for the Allegheny County Airport Authority on Feb. 19, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. He will be paid $113,500 a year.
In his new position, Mr. Gastgeb, who has served on county council since the home rule government was established in 2000, will try to "increase awareness of Pittsburgh International Airport in this competitive airport environment to businesses, corporate organizations and other key community leadership stakeholders in an effort to increase air travel in Pittsburgh," according to a statement released by the authority.
A job posting said his duties will include marketing the airport to the business and corporate community to increase revenues and awareness and attracting "new usages for airlines including being able to assist in developing and closing meetings with other airports and airlines to meet budget and/or stated goals."
Ms. Jenny said the authority followed "the normal procedures for recruiting" candidates for a position, including postings on websites like Monster.com. The job was posted from Jan. 4 to Jan. 11 and attracted a lot of applicants, she said. Several were interviewed, with the final selection being made by authority executive director Bradley D. Penrod.
Mr. Gastgeb currently is senior business sales manager for Acosta Sales and Marketing, the sales agent for Sara Lee Foods. While he has an extensive background in food sales and management, he acknowledged that he had no experience in aviation, other than what he has learned about Pittsburgh International as a county councilman.
But he added that he didn't think aviation experience was "imperative." He said the new job is sales and marketing related -- "selling the airport" -- and that he has the background, based on his professional and government experience, for the position.
"I know the airport. I know sales. I know marketing. Whatever I don't know, I feel I can pick up," he said.
Mr. Gastgeb said part of his job will be in trying to get businesses, corporations and universities to use Pittsburgh International more; to tailor flights from the airport to the needs of the business community; and to try to develop other programs that will help boost travel.
For that type of work, "I think you want a salesman there, a sales professional," he said.
In a statement, the authority said Mr. Gastgeb was chosen "because of his sales experience and because he was the best candidate who interviewed for the position."
But former county executive Jim Roddey, now county Republican Party chairman, criticized the hiring, saying that if he were still in office "I would do everything to stop it if I could."
"There are plenty of jobs available in the private sector. I just think if you're going to be a public servant, you shouldn't also be working for an agency that the county provides funding for," he said, noting that the county contributed $42.5 million toward the construction of the midfield terminal two decades ago.
"I think it's inappropriate. I don't think it's a good idea. Maybe now we understand why Gastgeb always votes for everything proposed by [county executive Rich] Fitzgerald."
To the contrary, Mr. Gastgeb said he and Mr. Fitzgerald, a Democrat, have not gotten along in the past, but "I don't think we look at each other as incompetent."
"I think we have a respectful relationship," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald issued a statement in support of the hiring. "Vince and I, obviously, had very public disagreements in the past, but I believe that he is a good choice for this position at the airport authority," he said.
Airport authority board members are appointed by Mr. Fitzgerald and they are confirmed by county council members.
In an interview, Mr. Fitzgerald said he has been urging the authority board to figure out a way to improve interaction with the local corporate community and legislators and agencies in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.
Mr. Gastgeb, he said, is well connected in the corporate world and also has connections to the administration of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
When it comes to personnel, Mr. Fitzgerald has shown little hesitation to flex his muscle. He orchestrated the firing of former county health department director Bruce Dixon and is now seeking to remove Port Authority CEO Steve Bland.
But while Mr. Fitzgerald noted that he had discussions with airport authority board members about Mr. Gastgeb, he said that the councilman was not his hand-picked candidate and that he did not actively promote the candidacy.
"I've worked with Vince and when people from the board called and asked my opinion, I would give it," he said.
Still to be decided is whether Mr. Gastgeb must give up his job as county councilman. Mr. Fitzgerald said he will not have to do so, based on a legal opinion. Mr. Gastgeb also said he doesn't think he has to resign because the authority is technically independent of the county but that he may do so anyway.
If he does not, he said he would abstain from any votes involving the authority or appointments to its board.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.