Ontario airport losing its CEO — here’s why

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

By Liset Márquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

ONTARIO >> Seven months into locals controlling Ontario International Airport, its CEO, Kelly Fredericks, is stepping down, it was announced Wednesday.

Coming out of a closed-door session Wednesday morning, the Ontario International Airport Authority announced Fredericks’ departure is effective immediately. Mark Thorpe, who was hired in August as chief development officer, will serve as interim CEO.

In a statement, OIAA President Alan Wapner alluded to a conflict between Fredericks and the commission.

“Both the commissioners and Kelly acknowledge that their approaches to the direction and management of OIAA differ and that it would be mutually beneficial to part ways as OIAA moves to the next phase of the airport’s development,” Wapner is quoted as saying.

Following a five-month search, the authority hired Fredericks away from the East Coast in January 2016.

The next month, the authority finalized the details of Fredericks’ five-year deal, giving him an annual salary of $398,500 — and bonuses which could have pushed it over $500,000 a year. He started in March 2016, leaving his position of president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corp., operator of T.F. Green Airport, a commercial airport serving Providence and the New England region.

When Fredericks arrived, the airport’s ownership was in transition, from Los Angeles World Airports to local hands, a deal that was finalized Nov. 2 when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pronounced: “There it is, take it.”

Terms of Wednesday’s separation agreement were not released. Commissioners declined comment during and after Wednesday’s special meeting.

But there were some hints to issues between Fredericks and commissioners leading up to the announcement. On June 17, the authority held a special Saturday meeting, the second time commissioners met that week. At that meeting, the commissioners had only one item on the agenda, a closed session to discuss a performance evaluation of Fredericks.

In addition, commissioners openly criticized their CEO on several occasions, including expressing frustration for being sent agenda packets for meetings without the proper staff reports attached.

At another meeting, Commissioner Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, chided Fredericks for not following the authority’s direction on how to proceed with selling a 147-acre property deemed surplus. Discussion on the item was put on hold.

The authority also postponed an April 27 vote on the facility’s master plan, after commissioners raised concerns about a lack of financial details in the agreement.

At its last meeting, Fredericks asked for an extension to finish the 2017-18 operating budget, although Wapner indicated at the meeting he didn’t think staff did anything wrong.

Since March, the authority has held seven meetings, with five being special meetings. In some cases, commissioners only had 24 hours to prepare.

At the end of Wednesday’s special meeting, Commissioner Curt Hagman noted the inconsistency and asked that a regular time and day be set for the monthly meetings.

An advocate for local control, Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Chino, said by phone Wednesday he was surprised by the change in leadership but didn’t think it would affect operations.

Rodriguez co-authored a 2015 bill to allow the city of Ontario to issue revenue bonds to finance the acquisition of the struggling airport from Los Angeles World Airports.

“No matter what the direction is, they are always doing what’s best for the airport,” he said, adding he didn’t think the turnover will slow the airport’s progression.

As an avid user of the airport, flying on a weekly basis to Sacramento, Rodriguez said Fredericks has made substantial changes in his 16 months with the authority.

“I don’t just see it in the black and white numbers, but I’ve seen an increase in folks using the airport that I’ve never seen before,” he said.

In Fredericks’ time, Ontario’s airport and the OIAA made a number of changes, including:

• A deal with a Chinese charter company to fly into ONT

• More international flights from Mexican economy carrier Volaris

• A plan to bring new restaurants to the airport

• New parking prices and valet parking

• A push to woo JetBlue back

“On behalf of the OIAA, I commend Kelly for his leadership in successfully transitioning Ontario International Airport to local control,” Wapner said in the statement. “During more than 16 months at the helm, Kelly and his team made significant progress in furthering our mission to make ONT one of the most competitive, efficient, innovative and customer-friendly passenger, cargo and business airports in the United States.”

In the statement, Wapner said: “We thank Kelly for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.”