The chief executive for Detroit Metropolitan Airport was fired Monday after only two months on the job, following a messy severance deal now under FBI investigation over her former post as economic development director for Wayne County.
Wayne County Airport Authority members voted 5-2 to dismiss Turkia Mullin, saying she violated terms of her employment. She said she is pursuing legal action over the firing.
Mullin received $200,000 in severance in September after leaving Wayne County for the airport post. She began working for the county in 2009. She received the severance payment Sept. 9.
She and County Executive Robert Ficano were criticized about the amount of the payment and the FBI is now investigating the deal. Last month, Mullin repaid the after-tax amount of $135,900.
A resolution calling for the firing pointed to a section in Mullin's contract that dealt with dishonesty, theft, willful misconduct and breach of fiduciary duty.
The vote came after the board emerged from a closed session with its lawyer to discuss Mullin's job.
Board member Suzanne Hall, who introduced the resolution, refused to go into detail about the basis for the firing.
"This resolution is unbalanced, vague and ambiguous and unfair to the authority and Miss Mullin," said board member Samuel Nouhan, who voted against the resolution.
He said there was no evidence that Mullin violated any point of the contract.
Airport spokesman Scott Wintner later issued a statement saying the board "will not discuss any further matters about her contract -- which our legal counsel will address with her privately."
Mullin's contract called for arbitration upon dismissal and for her to get three years' pay, which amounts to $750,000. Board member Bernard Parker said because she was fired "with cause," she would not get the money.
"Her ability to run the airport with all the distractions that are taking place ... that was my main concern," Parker said after the meeting at which he voted with the majority to fire Mullin.
The board named its chief financial officer, Thomas Naughton, to serve as interim chief executive.
Mullin told reporters her firing was unjustified.
"Clearly, questions surrounding my severance package should not have resulted in my wrongful termination," she told reporters after the vote. "When I was hired for the position ... I was called an excellent choice and approved unanimously."
Mullin said the quality of her work has not been questioned and she has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
"I now find my career coming to an unexpected, disappointing and abrupt halt," she said. "I am therefore seeking legal remedy."
Ficano has said protocols weren't followed in the severance deal. He suspended two officials involved in the deal and fired a contract worker. The FBI is investigating and agents served subpoenas Oct. 19 seeking records.
The deal upset many county employees who have been forced to take pay cuts as the county battles a $160 million accumulated budget deficit.
Late last week, Ficano was backpedaling from his support for Mullin. He issued a statement Monday saying he understood the board's decision.
"Today's actions by the airport board were painful, but done to end the distraction surrounding the airport director," Ficano said. "It's unfortunate that the promise I have seen in Ms. Mullin ... will not come to fruition under her watch."
Calling Mullin "a strong woman with many accomplishments," he said "the board must move on. They are a competent body, and will do their due diligence in finding a successor."
Monday afternoon, Mullin released the following statement to the media:
"Since my position as Detroit Metropolitan Airport CEO was terminated this afternoon, I feel compelled to express my disappointment in the way matters have evolved. Clearly, questions surrounding my severance package should not have resulted in my wrongful termination. I was selected as Detroit Metropolitan Airport CEO following my long career path of hard work, progressive responsibilities, education, public service to Wayne County and accomplishments.
When I was hired for the position approximately sixty days ago, I was called an “excellent choice” and approved unanimously by the seven-member Wayne County Airport Authority. While the quality of my work has not been in question, nor I have not been accused of any wrong doing, I now find my career coming to anunexpected, disappointing and abrupt halt.
I believe my education and experience make me uniquely qualified for the airport position. I earned a law degree, have years of experience working as a corporate real estate attorney in the private sector, I am a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, where I was twice honored with the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal. Importantly, I have more than eight years of public service dedicated to economic development in Wayne County, culminating in the position of chief development officer. This prepared me to be a strong leader at the helm of Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
I am proud of the leadership and vision I brought to the Airport, lead by astrategic plan that focused on improving the physical airport while simultaneously driving global economic development in and around the airport grounds. We had a clear vision from day one to improve the traveler experience, increase traveler and cargo traffic, add airlines and routes and substantially reduce debt.
In the last two months as Airport CEO, working with my team, we have identified and initiated untapped revenue streams, including a parking initiative that could easily generate more than $1 million in revenue this year alone. I have met with numerous developers interested in pursuing a cargo village. We are ranked 25th in cargo after Ohio and Indianapolis. Clearly, Detroit is missing opportunities that would generate jobs and investment.
Throughout my life and career, I have acted with dedication, integrity and determination. I am proud of my work and accomplishments. My reputation has been compromised. My professional life in public service has been severely impacted. I am therefore seeking legal remedy and have retained the legal services of Bloomfield Hills-based employment attorney Raymond J. Sterling, Sterling Attorneys At Law."