Blue Grass Airport names new executive director

jhewlett@herald-leader.comOctober 22, 2009 

The Blue Grass Airport's board wants Eric J. Frankl as the airport's new executive director.

The board, at its monthly meeting Wednesday, authorized board chairman J. Robert Owens to negotiate a contract with Frankl.

"We have a great new leader," Owens said.

Frankl, who was the director of airports for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which includes the Toledo Express and Metcalf Field airports in Ohio, has been interim executive director at the Lexington airport since February.

He took the role during a reorganization that began after a spending scandal that resulted in the resignation of Michael A. Gobb, the executive director, and three other airport executives.

Gobb and airport managers John Coon, John Rhodes and John Slone stepped down after a series of Herald-Leader articles revealed the airport's top five leaders spent more than $530,000 on travel, meals, entertainment and other expenses during a three-year period.

The airport's board forced their resignations and has since changed expense procedures.

On Tuesday, a Fayette County grand jury charged the four with felony theft.

It's notable that in 2004 Frankl succeeded Gobb as president of the Great Lakes Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives.

Frankl said he has known Gobb for several years.

"I didn't know him all that well, but, clearly, we had a friendly relationship," he said.

Frankl was one of 69 applicants from around the country for the permanent executive director position at the airport. The field was narrowed to eight, and then three. The board search committee then told the full board Frankl should be hired.

Primary selection criteria was membership in the American Association of Airport Executives, 10 or more years' experience in airport management and a degree in aviation management.

Guy Huguelet, a consultant hired by the board, said that during the search, community leaders were interviewed about what they thought of the airport and what improvements they would like to see made. Most of the leaders wanted more flights, cheaper airfares and an executive director with experience, as well as honesty and integrity — someone who could restore faith and credibility in the airport, Huguelet said.

Airport spokesman Brian Ellestad said Huguelet has been paid $5,687.50 for his assistance in the executive director search.

Frankl, 45, quit his job in Toledo to take the interim position at Blue Grass Airport.

He has overseen about $60 million in airport construction projects, many of them still ongoing, and has helped implement more than two dozen suggestions for improvements in the airport's operation made by the state auditor.

His salary as interim director has been $192,000 a year. As permanent executive director, it will be between $135,000 and $165,000 a year. The interim post paid more because Frankl was taking a risk by leaving his job to assume one that could have been temporary, airport officials have said.

Gobb, who did not have a contract with the airport board, was paid nearly $220,000 per year.

Frankl's wife, Linda, is director of strategy and organizational effectiveness at Columbus Regional Airport in Ohio. The couple has had a long-distance marriage for several years, traveling between their homes in Toledo and Columbus, and more recently between Lexington and Columbus.

"I think we like it down here (in Lexington) more," he said.

Board members were all positive about Frankl. Richard Hopgood said Frankl thinks strategically, has taken on important long-term projects and improved employee morale.

"He seemed to be too good to be true," said board member Bernard Lovely. "What we found is he is indeed a visionary."

"I think he'll do very well," said Alfred Testa Jr., a consultant who served as acting executive director of the airport after the spending scandal broke. "He's got a good head on his shoulders, he's knowledgeable about the industry, and he's honest."

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