August 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Arbitrator: Turkia Mullin's airport contract was valid

Mullin (Detroit News, file)

Detroit — Turkia Mullin may get another severance after all.

The fired CEO of Detroit Metropolitan Airport — whose $200,000 payout from Wayne County ignited a yearlong scandal and FBI probe — improved her chances of a $700,000 severance from the county Airport Authority when an arbitrator recently ruled her contract was valid.

Airport officials had hoped an arbitrator, retired Wayne County Circuit Judge Paul Teranes, would rule the contract was illegally negotiated, halting her demand for nearly three years' pay.

Instead, arbitration is proceeding with depositions in the case.

Airport officials this week learned of the decision.

"We hoped he would rule it was illegal and that would be the end of it, but it's going forward now," said Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker, D-Detroit, who serves on the Airport Authority. "It's not good news."

Ray Sterling, Mullin's attorney, wouldn't comment specifically on the decision, but called it a "major, major victory that the arbitrator ruled not only was it legal, but it's an enforceable and binding contract."

Mullin, the county's former economic development director, was hired as the airport's $250,000-per-year CEO in August 2011. The process was heavily criticized because of airport officials' close ties to her onetime boss, Executive Robert Ficano.

She began work Sept. 2 and was fired Oct. 31 for undisclosed reasons, two weeks after the FBI served subpoenas on Ficano's administration for Mullin's severance and deals she and other officials helped broker since 2007. Mullin returned the county severance before she was fired from the airport.

Her three-year airport contract called for her to receive the balance of her salary if she was let go without just cause.

Scott Wintner, an airport spokesman, declined comment. So did airport authority member Suzanne Hall, who negotiated Mullin's contract.

Airport officials had claimed the contract was void because Hall negotiated the deal without other airport authority members.

This week, unsealed search warrants in the Ficano probe showed for the first time that Mullin and former Deputy County Executive Azzam Elder are a focus of the probe. The affidavit stated that agents are investigating allegations of "corruption and/or malfeasance."

Sterling said he's not only trying to secure the rest of Mullin's airport contract, but "trying to clear her name and show what an excellent employee she was."

jkurth@detnews.com

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