Airport chief sought severance package before suspension | Published 12/31/08

jhewlett@herald-leader.comDecember 31, 2008 

Michael Gobb, who was suspended as Blue Grass Airport's executive director earlier this month, began talking with airport representatives about a severance agreement before he was suspended.

Those talks produced no agreement; now Gobb is negotiating for an agreement through his attorney.

The attorney, William Rambicure, said that the "current situation" has been stressful for Gobb and the airport board.

"At some point it makes sense for folks to move on, and it seems like this is one of those times," Rambicure said. "In the best of all possible worlds he would have loved to remain in that position, but he recognizes that, given recent events, that's problematic."

Gobb was notified Dec. 19 that he was being suspended from his job.

The suspension came after Herald-Leader articles documented that Gobb spent more than $200,000 for trips and other expenses from January 2006 through March 2008. The expenditures were in addition to his salary of nearly $220,000 and benefits that included unlimited use of an airport vehicle, gas, home Internet and cell phone service and club memberships.

"This has been a difficult time for both the airport and for Mike," Rambicure said Tuesday. "We've had some very preliminary discussions," he said of his talks with airport representatives about severance.

On Dec. 19, Rambicure e-mailed airport attorney Thomas Halbleib to tell him that he would be representing Gobb "in connection with the negotiation of a severance agreement with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Airport Board."

About an hour and a half later, Rambicure received an e-mail from Halbleib saying Gobb was being suspended by the airport board.

Halbleib, in his e-mail, said that recent media reports had raised questions about Gobb's conduct. "He has been contacted regarding some of these questions, and the questions have not been satisfactorily answered," he wrote.

Halbleib also notified Gobb's attorney that the airport wanted to make arrangements to retrieve Gobb's airport car, cell phones and other airport property. Gobb is being paid his full salary and benefits during the suspension.

The airport-owned SUV and Gobb's airport cell phones have been returned. His airport credit cards were left locked in his airport office, Rambicure said.

"He's still got a couple of items that he'll be dropping off to me that I will be dropping off later in the week," the attorney said.

Rambicure said if the two sides can't reach an agreement about severance, "there's a plethora of options that would be available."

But he said it would be premature to talk about those options now.

"All we're wanting to do right now is to explore options that make good business and economic sense for both sides under the circumstances," he said.

"Mike has been very pleased to have been employed with the airport for as long as he has. He believes he's done great things for the airport. In fact, the airport has said great things about the job he's done," Rambicure said.

Gobb was hired as the airport's executive director in 1998.

In a related event, Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry selected 12th District Urban County Council member Ed Lane to serve as his designee on the airport board, according to Shaye Rabold, Newberry's chief of staff. Lane will replace outgoing council member David Stevens. Lane's four-year term will start Monday.

But Stevens probably won't be leaving the airport board. Newberry wants him to replace board member Robert Dawson, whose term expires Thursday.

The mayor will put Stevens' appointment before the Urban County Council in the form of a mayor's report at a council work session on Tuesday. Stevens' appointment to another four-year term on the airport board would become effective if confirmed by the council.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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