September 1, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Arbitrator: Mullin's Detroit airport contract valid

Fired Metro Airport CEO could end up with $700,000 in severance pay after decision

Mullin (Detroit News, file)

Detroit — Turkia Mullin may get another severance after all.

The fired Detroit Metropolitan Airport CEO — whose $200,000 payout from Wayne County ignited a 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.

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, Wayne County 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. 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.

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.

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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