Rick Piccolo gets glowing reviews as director of Sarasota-Manatee airport

MANATEE -- Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority members had a hard time Monday criticizing the guy they see as responsible for making Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport one of the country's most financially stable airports.

Fredrick "Rick" Piccolo, the airport's longtime president and CEO, impressed board members with a year that brought the airport a new revenue-sharing agreement with airlines, the retirement of millions of dollars in long-term debt and the completion of years of renovations in the airport's terminal. For that, he received 49.9 points of a possible 50 on a 10-point annual evaluation, nearly repeating his perfect evaluation from the year before.

Board member Jack Rynerson said he believes Piccolo has improved the airport's functioning by wading into work that has positioned the airport as one of the best in Florida.

"We ask him to walk on water," he said. "Every time he sinks to his ankles, but that's as far as he sinks."

Piccolo, 63, has run the airport since December 1995. He

oversees about 130 airport employees.

Responding to the board's evaluation, Piccolo said he still enjoys the job 20 years on and has no plans to retire.

His job satisfaction, he said, is due in part to his working relationship with the board. When he was first hired, he went to work for an airport authority made up of elected members. Now, board members are appointed by the state's governor.

Back then, Piccolo said, he spent half his time justifying his decisions to board members.

"In those days, a lot of people wouldn't look at this job for love or money," he said. "Now I think they're looking to see when I retire."

Board member Peter Wish voiced the board's only complaint over its relationship with Piccolo. He said board members are not included in staff-level discussions. He cited the airport's recent hiring of a new public relations agency as an example of where he believes board member input could have been helpful.

"I just feel frustrated that I have things to add," Wish said.

He docked Piccolo a half-point on an evaluation item concerning strategic planning. However, Wish conceded that he does not want the board to micromanage Piccolo's work. The board and Piccolo left open the possibility that they could participate in off-site retreats periodically to bring board members' opinions more to the fore.

Piccolo said one of his top goals for the coming year is to act on a customer-service strategy published this month with input from all members of airport staff.

The evaluation does not directly impact Piccolo's salary and he will not receive a raise to coincide with its result. He currently earns $280,000 a year.