$13,000 bonus for MidAmerica director spurs call for contract review

News-DemocratFebruary 7, 2014 

A $13,000-plus bonus paid to the head of the financially struggling MidAmerica St. Louis Airport has a St. Clair County Board member calling for a review of the director's 11-year-old contract.

Tim Cantwell, head of the county-owned airport in Mascoutah, received $13,269 in January for drawing passengers through the airport and implementing a forestry program that generated $125,000 in revenue in the past year. The bonus is in addition to Cantwell's salary of about $124,000.

Cantwell could not be reached for comment.

County Board member Nick Miller, a Republican of Lebanon, said the current compensation plan for Cantwell states it is for the calendar year of 2003. The only other contractual document for Cantwell is a letter offering the position to him for 18 months (expiring at the end of 2003), Miller said.

"This is an extremely sloppy contract situation. It would be one thing for a private business to let a contract run past its written expiration date, but it's not acceptable for a unit of government spending taxpayer dollars to operate in a loose and unstructured manner," Miller said. "No one bothered to formally retain him. They just let him stick around on an old, arguably expired, contract that wasn't even put in place during the current County Board chairman's tenure."

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern could not be reached for comment Friday. He previously said the incentive was based upon performance, and was set when the airport had a lapse in offering passenger service.

Kern previously said Cantwell was responsible for numerous successes at the airport, including ensuring joint-use with neighboring Scott Air Force Base, increasing international cargo and cultivating relationships with North Bay Produce Inc. and the Boeing Co.

Miller said the attorney for the county's Public Building Commission, which oversees the airport, told him the contract was understood to be in effect because Cantwell had not left employment with the county.

"At the very least, the contract needs to be renegotiated to add some baseline minimum benchmarks for Mr. Cantwell and the airport to achieve," Miller said. "There is a ceiling built in where if he busts through it, he gets more money. But where is the floor that if he busts through that, he is punished? Right now, contractually, there is no low that's too low for Mr. Cantwell to achieve."

Public Building Commission Chairman Rich Sauget along with commissioners Jim Nations, Dan Polites, Luther Jackson and Rick Effinger could not be reached for comment.

Miller said he also is calling for immediate review of Cantwell's performance since 2003.

The airport is expected to be have a $1.4 million deficit this year.

The airport has struggled since opening in 1998. It has received more than $28.7 million in county funds to subsidize its operations in the past five years.

Miller said the issue of Cantwell's contract points toward the need for an independent forensic audit of the airport and Public Building Commission.

"If the Public Building Commission allowed Mr. Cantwell to continue working and receiving incentive bonuses based on an outdated, and arguably expired, contract for this long, what else hasn't been properly addressed? Where else has the PBC cost the taxpayers' money because of their lack of proper oversight?" Miller said.

Miller said he wants the auditor to be independent from St. Clair County government and to preferably be from outside the metro-east.

"I want an auditor with a very clear set of unbiased eyes to come in here and take a good long, thorough look at everything associated with MidAmerica airport and the tax dollars that go into running it," Miller said. "The PBC has operated completely without oversight, except for Chairman Kern, for far too long and the citizens of St. Clair County deserve to know how their money is being spent."

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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