Massport chief will retire in June

Kinton to keep pay for unused sick time

Thomas J. Kinton Jr. (left) announced yesterday that he will retire this year as executive director of Massport. He made his announcement the same day that Jeffrey B. Mullan (right) became chairman of Massport’s board. Thomas J. Kinton Jr. (left) announced yesterday that he will retire this year as executive director of Massport. He made his announcement the same day that Jeffrey B. Mullan (right) became chairman of Massport’s board. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Katie Johnston Chase and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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Thomas J. Kinton Jr., who overhauled Logan International Airport after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, announced yesterday that he is retiring as executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, three months after a dispute with Governor Deval Patrick’s administration over his pay.

The 35-year employee, who worked his way up from part-time soil-testing engineer, will retire with a $295,000 salary and a lump-sum $459,000 payout for unused sick time. The policy that allowed the payout was phased out by the agency in 2006 amid public criticism, but Kinton’s benefits were grandfathered. Kinton has also earned other perks, including more than $17,000 last year for selling back three weeks of vacation time.

Kinton, 59, served as aviation director from 1993 until 2006, when he was appointed to run the entire agency, which oversees Logan, as well as the Port of Boston, Hanscom Field, Worcester Regional Airport, and, until recently, the Tobin Bridge. After Sept. 11, 2001, when two jets from Logan were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, Kinton helped direct efforts to upgrade security and rebuild the agency’s confidence.

During his tenure as Massport chief and aviation director, Logan has spent about $4.5 billion for new terminals, parking facilities, and roads. The airport attracted JetBlue Airways in 2004, better positioning it to compete as low-cost carriers grew in popularity.

“The first home-grown CEO Massport has ever had — I’m proud of that,’’ said Kinton, a Woburn native and Merrimack College graduate who lives in Winchester and has two college-age daughters.

Kinton said he plans to step down in June, but has not decided what he will do next, only that he will remain in Massachusetts. “I have a few more good years in me,’’ he said.

Kinton is eligible to receive a pension of at least $195,000 a year. (Officials last night said they believed his unused vacation benefit would add thousands of dollars to that total, but could not confirm that.)

In November, the Patrick administration put the brakes on a $22,000 pay increase for Kinton just as the Massport board was scheduled to vote on the raise.

The move, which embarrassed Kinton, was one of several such actions Patrick has taken in his second term. The governor has also pressured most of the Massachusetts Parole Board to resign, blocked the potential appointment of former US representative Martin T. Meehan as president of the University of Massachusetts, and forced out the longtime secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services and the head of the state film office.

Kinton announced his retirement the same day that Patrick’s transportation secretary, Jeffrey B. Mullan, took over as chairman of Massport’s board. It is the first time a Cabinet member has led the board and a further indication that Patrick is taking a more hands-on approach with the authority.

Mullan and other Patrick administration officials praised Kinton and said that they had not pressured him to retire.

“The fact that the Port Authority is probably as well run an organization and as fiscally healthy as it is today is due in no small part to Tom Kinton’s leadership, for which I’m grateful, and the governor’s grateful,’’ Mullan said, offering praise that was echoed by other board members.

Kinton said denial of his pay raise was “something that was part of my decision, but it wasn’t the overriding factor at all.’’

“This should not be read as Mullan in, Kinton out,’’ he added. “It’s just the timing is right. It’s a good time for me to make the break with the transition that’s occurring at the board level.’’

Kinton also said he had no intention of declining any of his sick pay benefit. The old policy allowed Massport employees to accrue as many as 15 days a year in unused sick pay and receive 100 percent of the value upon retirement, a benefit unheard of for most public and private employers.

The 2006 revision allowed employees to collect 20 percent of the cash value of sick time accrued thereafter, in line with other state agencies. Massport is funded through fees to airlines, shipping companies, and travelers, as well as property leases and federal grants.

“It’s what I’ve worked for,’’ Kinton said. “It’s something that is, I think, not the norm. But because I’m a CEO, and there aren’t many CEOs that have gone through the state retirement system with this many years of service, I think it just is not the norm and is the exception to the rule. But it’s the earned benefit and something that I’ve worked very hard for.’’

Mullan also said Kinton has earned the money. “I may not like it,’’ he said. “You may not like it. It doesn’t really matter. He’s entitled to it because that’s what the law provides.’’

But state Senator Mark C. Montigny, a longtime critic of state authorities, called the benefit the “worst of the worst’’ and said it would be gracious if Kinton returned some of the money.

“It’s outrageous,’’ Montigny said. “There should not be this notion of a platinum parachute.’’

Mullan and other officials said they have no replacements in mind for Kinton and will work with the board on a search process and salary structure. Salaries for big-city airport directors range from about $200,000 to $350,000, according to the Airports Council International.

Johnston Chase can be reached at; Noah Bierman can be reached at