The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority has narrowed the pool of candidates to be its next president and chief executive officer to four—three from out-of-state and one current employee of the airport.
Board members expressed a desire for candidates with relevant airport experience during a May 8 meeting of the RTAA Board of Trustees. Since that time, two local candidates without specific airport experience have been removed from consideration for the position.
Jennifer Cunningham, who withdrew from consideration, is the interim president and CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. Bob Lucey, who was eliminated from the list, is chairman of the Washoe County Commission.
Cunningham said her decision to withdraw from running was motivated by a desire to remain with the RSCVA as it continues to navigate the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency has furloughed nearly half of its staff since Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered non-essential businesses to close in March.
“When I applied for the position, it was really early on in the COVID crisis,” she said. “At that time, no RSCVA employees had been furloughed.”
At the time, Cunningham, like many others, believed that things would be back to normal by late April. She said she’d been approached by several people in the community who encouraged her to apply for the position and was seeking a permanent business leadership position anyway.
“Once I realized how drastic the cuts were going to be at the RSCVA—not only with the budget, but, more importantly with the employees and the furloughs—that’s when I realized, you know, ‘I do need to stay with the organization and focus and help make it through these crises,’” she said.
“I was honored to be selected as a finalist by the search firm, but that was when I thought, ‘You know what? I need to do some real searching.’ And I think the RSCVA—at this time—will need a leader who knows the organization. We need a leader who knows the industry and someone to help shepherd the organization through what I’d call uncharted times.”
Others who were eliminated from the pool were from out of state. Several of them were among the candidates asking for the highest salary to do the job. A total of six of the eight candidates previously being considered have either withdrawn or been eliminated. Two candidates who’d previously applied were added to the final pool of four. With Lucey and Cunningham out of the contest, there is only one local left in the running for the position.
Tina Iftiger is vice president of airport economic development for the RTAA. She has worked for the airport authority since 2009. Notes from the board of trustees about her potential strengths as a candidate include her history with the organization and existing knowledge of its strengths, weaknesses and issues—as well as her background in “economic development and revenue generations, which will be critical in the years ahead.”
According to the board, she has been suggested as a potential candidate on several occasions through both internal and external stakeholder meetings.
In her current role Iftiger earns a $201,000 salary, 5 percent merit eligibility, $5,000 annual bonus eligibility and gains sharing.
Daren Griffin is a candidate from Portland, Oregon. He’s worked for the Port of Portland since 2004. The RTAA Board of Trustees, in their agenda and notes from a meeting on May 15, noted among Griffin’s qualifying strengths “a breadth of experience through tenures with U.S. Army” and experience with both small and large airports—and the fact that he’d be coming from the Portland Airport which “is highly regarded across the industry” and the “recipient of numerous ‘best airport’ recognitions.”
Griffin’s current compensation is $191,000 base salary and 10 percent bonus potential—the least of the four candidates.
The candidate who currently earns the highest starting salary is Kelly Fredericks. Fredericks would be coming to Reno from Upland, California. Fredericks has been the CEO of three airports. When he was CEO of the Ontario International Airport Authority, his base salary was $398,000 with a 25 percent guaranteed bonus. He has, however, confirmed that he is fine with the current RTAA compensation package.
RTAA’s media department said that the compensation package would have to be negotiated and were unable to provide a proposed salary range for the position. Transparent Nevada, which reports public employee salaries and pensions, lists the salary for RTAA president and CEO between 2013 and 2019 as ranging from $220,000 to $285,000, plus benefits.
The final candidate on the shortlist for the position is Tim Zeis of Florence, Kentucky. Zeis served as chief operating officer for the Kenton County (Cincinnati, Ohio) Airport Board from 2010 to 2019, but he built his career between 1982 and 2010 at Comair—a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air. It, like other airline companies, struggled through the Great Recession before ceasing operations in 2012.
According to the RTAA board Zeis’ strengths as a candidate include a “breadth of experience across both airport and airline contexts, having built his career at Comair” and that he comes “highly referred by both airport and airline executives.”
The RTAA Board of Trustees will be moving forward with interviews of the four candidates in the weeks to come.
Correction: This story has been updated to indicate that Bob Lucey was removed from consideration for the post, rather than withdrew. Additionally, it clarifies that the candidate salaries listed are what they are currently being paid, not what they are requesting for the RTAA position.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.