Airport authority CEO retiring; interim named

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Thomas Naughton, CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority who has overseen rapid passenger growth at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and major expansion to the facility during his tenure, is retiring at the end of September.

Naughton, 60, will serve as a consultant to the authority board for one year. The terms of the consulting agreement were not yet made available. He makes $262,500 annually. Naughton and the airport board jointly agreed to the retirement decision.

The new interim CEO effective Oct. 1 will be Joseph Nardone, 55, the authority’s vice president of business development and real estate division, whom Naughton called an “outstanding selection.”

Nardone declined to comment.

The announcement by Naughton was made at the authority’s Wednesday monthly meeting at the airport and had been the buzz for weeks as questions swirled about whether Naughton would retire or the board would renew his contract beyond its Sept. 30 expiration.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead one of the best teams of aviation professionals in the world, ” Naughton said at Wednesday’s meeting.

After noting several accomplishments, he added that “I feel comfortable moving on, passing the baton to a new generation of leadership.”

Naughton served as interim CEO for nearly a year before he was named as a permanent choice in 2012, following the authority firing of Turkia Mullin amid an FBI investigation into her $200,000 severance after leaving Wayne County as its chief development officer. Mullin was never charged and received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office saying no evidence of wrongdoing was found.

Naughton declined to talk further about his decision. He began working for the authority in 2002, and he has served in a number of leadership positions including chief financial officer, executive vice president and interim chief executive officer. He was promoted to chief executive officer in 2012.

Suzanne Hall, authority board chairwoman, has known Naughton since 1988 when he was a deputy chief financial officer for Wayne County and helped steer the precarious finances of the county from bankruptcy, she said.

“I’m thrilled that Tom has agreed to stay on and be a consultant and help the board through the next phase of the operation,” she said told board members.

She praised Nardone’s service to the airport and said it was important the interim CEO was “someone that the staff knows and someone that the staff trusts.”

Hall in a statement said: “Thomas Naughton is rightly recognized as a strong leader in the aviation field who combines considerable financial acumen with a deep knowledge of airport operations. Thanks to Tom’s leadership, airline passengers consistently rank Detroit Metro Airport as one of the best airports in the world.”

Nardone serves as Wayne County’s representative for the Great Lakes Water Authority. He is a 1985 graduate of Michigan State University and has worked for the Wayne County Parks Division, including as its director.