Modesto has placed its airport manager on paid administrative leave, and officials are declining to give a reason or say how long they expect the absence to last.
Jerry Thiele has overseen Modesto Airport for six years and has about 35 years of experience in airport administration at several airports. He earns $98,136 annually. Human Resources Director Joe Lopez said Thiele was placed on leave Dec. 6. Lopez did not know how long Thiele would be on leave and when the matter would be concluded.
Interim City Attorney Adam Lindgren declined to say why Thiele, 57, was placed on leave or whether someone had lodged a complaint against Thiele, because those are personnel issues and exempt from disclosure.
Lopez said there can be many reasons for employees to be placed on administrative leave related to their job duties. He said during his two years with the city, it has happened several times.
A family member said Thursday that Thiele would not comment for this story.
The airport has an annual operating budget of nearly $1.2 million and is allocated six employees, according to the city’s 2013-14 operating budget. SkyWest Airlines provides the only regularly scheduled commercial flights from Modesto Airport – three daily flights to and from San Francisco.
But the city is working with its airport consultant to land daily flights to and from Los Angeles. They say those flights are vital for the region and the airport. Southern California is the top destination for Modesto Airport travelers, who change planes in San Francisco.
The flights are important for the airport because they would help keep its annual passenger count at more than 10,000 – the threshold the airport needs to meet to receive $1 million in annual federal funding for capital projects at the airport. If the passenger count falls to less than 10,000, then the annual federal funding would fall to $150,000.
City officials fear if that happens it would lead to more declines at the airport, such as the Federal Aviation Administration no longer staffing the airport’s control tower.
The annual passenger count has steadily declined over several years. The count was more than 19,000 in 2011 and nearly 16,000 in 2012. City officials have said they expect this year’s passenger count to be about 11,000.