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SRQ head might fly the coop

SARASOTA — The local airport’s top executive could be landing a new job at a bigger airport.

Frederick “Rick” Piccolo, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport’s president and chief executive officer, has interviewed for the vacant CEO post at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Covington, Ky.

Piccolo, SRQ’s top executive since late 1995, did not return a voice mail left on his cell phone Wednesday evening.

The latest possibility of losing Piccolo — he has been frequently recruited by other airports in the past — has led to a scramble to schedule an emergency meeting of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority, Piccolo’s current boss and the local airport’s governing board.

But it’s doubtful it would engage in a bidding war to keep him, said Eric Robinson, the board’s chairman.

“This is what we get for having a major-league player on a minor-league team,” he said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, we can’t pay him what he deserves. We’re hoping sunshine will persuade him to stay.”

Bob Waetcher, another board member from Sarasota County, said he’s not surprised Piccolo is considering another job after months of scrutiny and controversy over his travel expenses and compensation package.

“Career-wise, it’s an attractive move,” Waetcher said. “I think an atmosphere has been created where, when this opportunity came along, he said, ‘I’ll take a look at it.’ I don’t blame him for doing that, but I sure hope he stays.”

But another board member who has criticized Piccolo’s travel spending felt differently, saying Piccolo’s job-hunting should cost him his current job, which pays about $200,000 a year.

“If he’s out there actively looking for a job, then I’ve lost all confidence in his ability to operate the airport,” said Paul Sharff, one of the six-member board’s three Manatee County representatives.

As a hub for Delta subsidiary Comair, the Cincinnati airport is significantly larger than SRQ. It handled 13.6 million passengers in 2008 compared to SRQ’s 1.5 million.

Cincinnati was the nation’s 30th-busiest airport in terms of passenger boardings in 2007, the latest full year for which Federal Aviation Administration data was available. SRQ ranked 101st that year.

The Cincinnati airport has not had a permanent CEO since October, when Robert F. Holscher died after 33 years at the airport’s helm. The position since has been filled on an interim basis by its deputy executive director, according to the airport’s Web site.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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