Inside job: The airport deserved a real pro on a key post

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A good salesman can sell anything. That's the conventional wisdom in business, and it's the justification the Allegheny County Airport Authority offered for its decision to hire county Councilman Vince Gastgeb to lead efforts to attract more air travel and service at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Is anybody buying this?

Mr. Gastgeb, a Bethel Park Republican and member of council since it was established in 2000, has an extensive background in food sales and marketing and currently is senior business sales manager for a firm that is sales agent for Sara Lee Foods. Nobody is questioning his skills as a salesman.

Here's what's questionable.

• The candidate deemed to be most qualified just happens to be part of the legislative body that confirms appointments to the authority. In other words, Mr. Gastgeb holds sway over the people who gave him the $113,500-a-year job.

• The authority posted this crucial position for just a week, Jan. 4 to Jan. 11, and concluded that nobody could do a better job of "selling the airport," as Mr. Gastgeb described his duties.

• This kind of insider advantage is so commonplace in Allegheny County that the citizenry is complacent about it, adopting an attitude of "that's the way things are" rather than "that's no way for things to be."

The public has a big stake in the airport. Millions of taxpayer dollars went into construction of a facility that was custom-made and later abandoned as a hub for US Airways. People in several states rely on it for their personal travel plans, too. But most important is the airport's role in drawing and sustaining a vibrant business community; businesses in the region need ready access to national and international markets for their goods, services and employees.

It's hard to believe the authority did not look for or could not find someone with experience in the airline industry or airport management field to lead this important endeavor for the airport and the region.

Now that Mr. Gastgeb has the job, he should resign his council seat. Oversight of the airport authority is an important function of county government, and Mr. Gastgeb can't fill that role while working as one of the authority's employees.

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