DETROIT (WXYZ) - The Wayne County Airport Authority’s long search for a new CEO has come to an end, and it’s a top county official who’s been chosen. But does Turkia Mullin have the right experience to lead an airport that brings in almost $8 billion a year?
Some have described Turkia Mullin’s rise inside Wayne County government as meteoric. It was just a couple of years ago that she was a staff attorney for the county—now, she’s about to head up one of the busiest airports in the world.
She’s arguably the most powerful woman in Wayne County government, even though you’ve probably never heard of her before. But inside the county’s headquarters in Detroit, a building she played a key role in buying, Mullin is well known as a smart, tough executive whose business savvy and legal expertise has made her a formidable figure.
The Wayne County Airport Authority voted 7-0 to hire Mullin, even though her resume shows no experience managing airports, large or small. In fact, she was chosen over five other candidates—four of whom had experience managing airports.
As recently as 2005, she was the principal real estate attorney for the county’s law department, negotiating major real estate purchases and leases throughout the area. That year, she became an assistant CEO. By 2006, her salary was just under $145,000
When she became the director of economic development for the county, her salary jumped to $200,000, that’s almost $30,000 more than her boss Robert Ficano. It’s widely believed Mullin is paid even more from an organization affiliated with the county, but officials have failed to respond to Channel 7’s request for Mullin’s paychecks.
As the Action News Investigators reported last year, Mullin is also the executive director of a shadowy non-profit called the Wayne County Business Development Corporation. The fund pays for Mullin and other county officials to travel the globe on economic development missions, but uses money from donors, including county contractors. Wayne County wouldn’t release the names of all the donors.
Mullin touts helping to bring more than $5.5 billion dollars in investment commitments to the region during the last two years. She also helped craft the Cobo Hall renovation plan, and played a key role in other major economic development projects in Wayne County. In 2009, she was named a “Woman to Watch” by Crain’s Detroit Business.
But she’s not without controversy. Mullin was key in the development of the now failed Pinnacle Race Track, which never produced the anticipated 2,300 jobs, and cost taxpayers about $30 million. The county’s auditor said the project was rife with shoddy bookkeeping, tallying jobs that the horse track didn’t really create: like delivery people from UPS, or employees from Home Depot who would drop by the racetrack.
We’ve also learned that the company hired to handle the search for the next airport CEO is also linked to Turkia Mullin. The company, Trust in Us LLC, is owned by Jack Krasula, the former director of the Pinnacle Race Track and an investor in the now failed project who benefited from the county’s $30 million investment. Asked if that created a conflict of interest, a spokesperson for the Wayne County Airport Authority board said the final decision to hire Mullin was made by a search committee, not Krasula or his company.
Mullin is already the third highest paid employee in Wayne County, but she’s about to get another raise. Her predecessor Lester Robinson made $215,000 a year, but Mullin will be making another $35,000 on top of that, paid by the airport authority.
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