Blue Grass Airport's runaway expenses

Councilman turns to county attorney after AG won't talk

jhewlett@herald-leader.comSeptember 26, 2009 

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway's office says it's inappropriate for that office to comment on the legality of a proposed settlement between the Blue Grass Airport board and former airport executive director Michael Gobb.

The attorney general's office, in a response this week to a request for a formal opinion on the matter by Lexington councilman George Myers, said the office was declining to comment because "we are actively working with the Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney's Office and participating in the investigation of this matter."

Now Myers is turning to Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts for answers. He sent Roberts a letter Friday about the proposed settlement.

Myers is upset about the airport board recently authorizing its chairman to enter into an agreement accepting $20,000 in reimbursements from Gobb. One of the questions Myers is seeking to have answered is whether the Urban County Council can block the airport board's action. Lexington's mayor selects airport board members, and the council ratifies those selections.

Gobb and three airport directors resigned in January, less than two months after the Herald-Leader began publishing a series of articles on airport spending. In February, state auditor Crit Luallen's office reported that seven top airport employees, including the four who resigned, had more than $500,000 in questionable or unsupported expenses from Jan. 1, 2006 through Dec. 31, 2008. A criminal investigation has been going on for months.

Myers said he wished that the attorney general "could have separated the questions that may have involved some aspects of his ongoing investigation from those questions that do not, and respond to the latter."

Myers, in his letter to Roberts, said that, despite the decision by the attorney general's office not to comment, "I believe there remains a significant legal question, independent of any potential criminal action. I remain concerned the proposed agreement is harmful to the public interest."

Roberts said late Friday afternoon that he had not seen Myers' letter.

According to Luallen's office, Gobb had $152,763.25 in questionable or unsupported charges to his airport credit card and an additional $28,527.68 in questionable or unsupported expenses for which direct payments were made during the three-year period. Shortly after the spending scandal began unfolding, then-airport board chairman Bernard Lovely, who was charged with overseeing Gobb's expenses, said that Gobb may have hidden some spending from him by having subordinates buy items for him on their airport credit cards. It was Gobb's responsibility to review charges made by his subordinates.

In the proposed settlement, Gobb would repay $10,000 that the airport provided in July 2008 to help him with personal medical expenses — money that was not charged on his airport credit card or reimbursed to him - plus an additional $10,000. As of early August, Gobb had reimbursed the airport $4,818.47 and returned numerous items, but that money and the items are not part of the settlement being worked out now.

Patrick Nash, Gobb's attorney, has said that Gobb's expenditures were proper and that any settlement in which Gobb pays money back to the airport is more than fair.

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

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