Austin-Bergstrom International Airport sets records but CEO is out

Jacqueline Yaft resigned soon after interim city manager took charge, possibly because of a conflict of interest with a major airport contractor that was not timely reported by her or the contractor

HomeAustin-Bergstrom International AirportAustin-Bergstrom International Airport sets records but CEO is out

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport touted a record-breaking year in 2022 with passenger traffic of slightly more than 21 million, up 55.4 percent from 2021.

Samantha Haynes

Work is underway on a $4.2 billion 2040 Airport Master Plan to accommodate what seems to be unstoppable demand for the destination known as AUS. The plan projects that 31.4 million passengers will pass through the airport in 2037—a 50 percent increase over 2022. But Samantha Haynes, acting public information and marketing manager for AUS, told the Bulldog, “If trends continue we will hit 30 million passengers by about 2027.

“When the airport opened in 1999 it served 11 million passengers. Last year it did just just over 21 million with the same physical facility,” Haynes said.

The airport’s largest project, set to break ground soon, is the west expansion that will add 30,000 square feet of space to the terminal, including restrooms, a new public outdoor space, concessions, and three new gates to offset the closure of existing gates once construction begins on the midfield concourse, Haynes said.

Not all has not been well at the airport

Aircraft near collision—There was a near collision last month as a FedEx cargo flight was inbound for landing when an air-traffic controller cleared a Southwest Airlines flight for takeoff to Cancun. What could have been a catastrophe turned into a near miss when the FedEx pilot climbed out and the Southwest flight safely took flight for Cancun, Mexico.

South Terminal dispute—The City is embroiled in a legal dispute with operators of the South Terminal that the City wants to kick out to make way for expanded facilities. Media reports stated that booting the operator will cost the City some $90 million.

Jet fuel storage—Last year a divided Austin city council allowed construction of a new six-million-gallon jet-fuel storage facility to be built within a few hundred feet of homes. This aroused fears of another environmental disaster such as occurred decades earlier at a gasoline storage facility on Airport Boulevard at Springdale Road in East Austin. Residents and activists struggled for many years before succeeding in closing that facility.

Slow security checks—Then there were the interminable lines of passengers waiting to wind their way through labyrinthian security lines without missing their flights. Some thought the problem was overscheduling too many flights but Yaft blamed the Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for security operations at some 440 U.S. airports, for having insufficient staff. KXAN reported in April 2022 that ABIA Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Yaft had written a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske asking that more transportation safety officers be assigned to AUS.

Jacqueline Yaft

But how much blame for these situations should be attributed to Yaft? After all, the Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for overseeing air traffic control. The city leased the South Terminal years before Yaft’s first day on the job. And it was the City Council that allowed construction of the new jet-fuel facility that upset neighboring residents.

In happier times, Airport Advisory Board Member Jeremy Hicks, City Manager Spencer Cronk, and Jacqueline Yaft pose for a photo that Hendricks posted to Facebook August 28, 2019, two months after Yaft was hired.

Still, the question is why would Jacqueline Yaft, who started as airport CEO almost four years ago, resign March 2, 2023—barely two weeks after the City Council fired City Manager Spencer Cronk and hired Jesus Garza to serve as interim city manager? The timing suggests that Yaft didn’t suddenly decide to quit but may have been offered the chance to resign or be fired.

On the other hand, in early 2022 Yaft was one of five finalists competing for the job of running Orlando, Florida’s international and executive airports. Apparently Yaft has been anxious to move on for some time.

Jesus Garza

Garza, through a spokeswoman, declined to speak for this story, saying he does not comment on personnel matters.

Yaft, who owns a home in Buda, could not be located to ask for comments about her resignation.

Soon after Garza took over, he announced Yaft’s resignation and the retirement of Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano, who oversaw the city’s public safety agencies, according to a March 1st announcement in which he thanked the two for their service.

Jim Smith

Garza tapped a former assistant Austin police chief, Bruce Mills, to replace Arellano and a former ABIA executive, Jim Smith, to replace Yaft. The shakeup brings into office a cast of characters that led the city in the late 1990s during Mayor Kirk Watson’s first term in office.

Yaft’s connection to major airport contractor

The City of Austin’s short list for the position of executive director of aviation, prepared April 8, 2019, by Lincoln Leadership Advisors and included in her personnel file, states that since 2018 Yaft had worked as an associate principal for Paslay Management Group (PMG).

Interestingly. at the same time that Yaft was being considered as Austin’s new airport honcho, PMG was competing for a contract to provide executive program manager services at ABIA.

In fact, Yaft’s photo and three-page résumé were included in PMG’s contract. Her listed experience included assistant director of operations at Denver International Airport; deputy director of operations and emergency management at Los Angeles World Airports; principal consultant at Ross & Baruzzini working on redevelopment of LaGuardia Central Airport in New York City; and at PMG focusing on a variety of tasks for Albuquerque International Sunport.

Yaft started her new job at ABIA June 10, 2019, with a salary of $251,472, according to her personnel file.

Ten days later, the City Council approved negotiation and execution of PMG’s contract not to exceed $10 million. The City staff’s recommendation shows that out of a maximum of 100 points, Paslay Management Group earned 85 points, while the competing vendor, R.W. Brock Consulting LLC, got 49 points. Ultimately, the 290-page contract was budgeted for $36.6 million over a period of 10 years, based on three additional two-year options.

Undisclosed conflicts of interest

Although City Manager Cronk was presumably aware of the close connection between Yaft and PMG when he hired her, since that was documented in the short-list materials. Yet somehow neither Yaft nor PMG filed timely disclosures with the City, as required.

Both state law and the Austin City Code requires that city officials and vendors who do business with government agencies disclose their relationships by filing disclosures.

While Yaft had nothing to do with the City’s decision to award the long-term contract to PMG for program manager services, in her role as airport CEO there would have to be ongoing decisions made routinely in administering the contract. The City could not immediately answer the question of whether Yaft signed off to approve any of the 45 payments made to PMG since January 8, 2020, totaling $5,275,834.

Local Government Code Section 176.003(b) requires that government officers file the disclosure statement by the seventh business day after becoming aware of the facts requiring disclosure. The Form CIS states, “This is the notice to the appropriate local government entity that the following local government officer has become aware of facts that require the officer to file this statement in accordance with Chapter 176.” Yet, Yaft did not file a Conflicts Disclosure Statement pertaining to PMG with the City until September 9, 2022—more than three years after starting her job.

And PMG did not file the required Conflict of Interest Questionnaire to disclose it’s connection to Yaft until March 7, 2023—five days after she had resigned and nearly four years after getting the ABIA contract.

The Form CIQ states, “By law this questionnaire must be filed with the records administrator of the local government entity not later than the 7th business day after the date the vendor becomes aware of the facts that require the statement to be filed,” per Local Government Code Section 176.006(a-1).

According to records published by Austin Finance Online, Paslay Management Group has been paid nearly $5.3 million for consulting services since January 2020. That’s 52.8 percent of the initial $10 million authorized for the contract that expires in June 2024.

A knowing failure to file these disclosures is a Class B misdemeanor is the contract is at least $1 milliion but less than $5 million, and a Class A misdemeanor if the contract amount is at least $5 million, per Section 176.013.

“A local government entity may reprimand, suspend, or terminate the employment of an employee who knowingly fails to comply with” the disclosure requirement, per Section 176.013(d).

Further, “The governing body of a local governmental entity may, at its discretion, declare a contract void if the governing body determines that a vendor failed to file a conflict of interest questionnaire….”

Exceptions apply if the government officer or vendor filed the required conflicts disclosure not later than the seventh business day after the date they were notified of the alleged violation.

David Arredondo

David Arredondo PMG’s executive program manager for the company’s airport contract, did not return two calls requesting comments for this story.

Photo of Ken MartinTrust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 20-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].

Related documents:

Austin Finance Online records of payments to Pasley Management Group for consulting services January 8, 2020, through March 20, 2023 (3 pages)

Conflict of Interest Questionnaire disclosing Pasley Management Group’s relationship with Jacqueline Yaft, March 7, 2023 (1 page)

Contract between the City of Austin and Paslay Management Group for Executive Program Manager Service, June 20, 2019 (290 pages)

Jacqueline Yaft’s City of Austin Personnel File, including her resignation, candidate report for the City of Austin’s position as executive director of aviation, new hire personnel action form, and offer of employment from City Manager Spencer Cronk (19 pages)

Jacqueline Yaft’s Conflicts Disclosure Statement pertaining to her relationship with vendor PMG (Pasley Management Group), September 9, 2022 (1 page)

Jacqueline Yaft’s résumé excerpted from Paslay Management Group’s response to the City’s  Request for Qualifications for Executive Program Manager Services at ABIA, March 5, 2019 (3 pages)

Recommendation for Action, authorize negotiation and execution of a contract with Paslay Management Group for airport executive program manager services in an amount not to exceed $10 million, June 20, 2019 (2 pages)

Recommendation for Award of contract for Executive Program Manager Service, April 29, 2019 (3 pages)


  1. I appreciate the reporting on Yaft’s resignation. The disclosure information is interesting, but it’s not unusual for Government agencies to hire former employees of their big providers. Not great, but revolving door issues aside, the timing of the resignation indicates it’s much more likely to be a consolidation of power on the part of Jesus Garza who is putting his own team in place and certainly would want to stay close to an operation where billions of dollars is being spent. So I suggest this is a very worthwhile area to dig deeper in your future reporting.

Congratulations. It looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the end of articles. Now that you’re informed on this topic we want your feedback.

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