New Aviation Director Says He Wasnt Interested When First Contacted
By Sherri C. Ranta
Miami-Dade County’s new aviation director, Jose Abreu, said Tuesday that he received the call to duty twice from the executive search firm looking for candidates for the job.
"They thought I was a good match. At that time, I really was not interested. I knew (interim aviation director) Carlos Bonzon was interested. He’s great," said Mr. Abreu, who will leave his position as Florida’s secretary of transportation. "I figured with Carlos over there and me in Tallahassee, we could do great things."
Mr. Bonzon said by mid-March that he was no longer interested in the county’s top aviation job, citing personal reasons. Executive search firm Korn Ferry International called again, and this time, Mr. Abreu said he was interested.
Mr. Abreu said he consulted first with Gov. Jeb Bush, who in 2003 appointed the former Miami District 6 transportation head to the statewide post.
With a blessing from the governor, Mr. Abreu interviewed with the county’s search committee and County Manager George Burgess.
Mr. Abreu is to start his new job July 11. He said he will leave his current job July 8.
"I see my role as an implementer – take the policy formulated by the commission and the manager and the mayor and implement it," he said.
Mr. Abreu said he does not expect to consult with the county aviation department before his start date.
County commissioners and Mr. Burgess often were at odds with former aviation director Angela Gittens, who resigned in November.
Mr. Abreu said he would not have trouble working with other county officials. "And I’m not telling you that to be politically correct," he said.
"The one commissioner I do not know personally is (Barbara) Jordan. She was just elected," he said. "I’ve worked with them before. We agree more than we disagree."
The state’s transportation leader said he hopes to bring new initiatives implemented by the state that can help Miami International Airport and the county’s three general-aviation airports. "We’ll see if there is room for any of these ideas that worked so well for us."
He cited one particular example – that of using contract dispute review boards – to act as a kind of mediation board as contracts are awarded.
Mr. Abreu, considered a surface-transportation guru with 20 years of public experience, was the only finalist for the job without aviation experience. He won the job over aviation managers from Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta.
The county may vote to take back management of construction of the new North Terminal at Miami International. The project is over budget and off schedule by at least two years under the management of American Airlines. Recently published reports put the cost at $1.9 billion.
Mr. Abreu’s hiring will not require approval of the county commission because he doesn’t plan to seek an employment contract. Commissioners must approve all contracts.
"I’m a Miami guy. I figure I don’t want to be any place where I’m not wanted," he said. The rest of the county’s directors, he said, do not have contracts. His compensation, he said, is still under negotiation.
Mr. Abreu became the Florida Deapartment of Transportation’s Miami leader in 1995 and worked with other elected and appointed officials on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. He is a registered professional engineer and has worked in the private sector.
Mr. Bonzon issued a department wide memo May 27, the day Mr. Abreu’s hiring was announced, in which he urged employees to welcome the new director.
"I have known Jose for over 30 years and consider him a very good friend and excellent public administrator. The department will be well-served by this appointment," Mr. Bonzon wrote.
Mr. Bonzon, expected to remain with the county as an assistant county manager, went on in the memo to cite several challenges the department faces.
"Our budget for the next fiscal year has been reduced, the number of passengers expected at MIA for the next few years has also been reduced, the cost to complete the North Terminal has increased (as has the timeframe for completion) – but opportunities abound."