Special Reports

Council asks chair to step down

The Urban County Council unanimously asked Bernard Lovely to step down Tuesday as Blue Grass Airport chairman and to remove himself from any board or airport operations until state Auditor Crit Luallen finishes a review of airport expenses.

Lovely has been the de facto head of the airport since Dec. 19, when he suspended airport Executive Director Michael Gobb in light of questions raised about Gobb's expenses.

If he agrees to the council's request, he would have to bow out of an internal airport investigation that he has been conducting with the help of the airport's attorney. Gobb resigned Friday.

"These issues are not about individuals, they're about the institution," said Vice Mayor Jim Gray. "And the remedies that we are encouraging, the actions that we are encouraging as a council, have to do with restoring the trust and confidence and the unshakable credibility and integrity of the airport."

Mayor Jim Newberry, who would vote on the council's resolution only in the event of a tie, said the council's request is improper.

"It is not appropriate for either the mayor or members of the council injecting themselves into the day-to-day operations of the airport," Newberry said.

"For those of us in City Hall to be substituting our judgement for the considered judgment of the board that has a lot more familiarity with the operations of the airport than anyone else in the community I think is wrong," he said.

He said the council has no legal authority to ask Lovely to remove himself from airport business.

The council's resolution still requires two official council readings for final approval. That could come Thursday. Still, the airport board is not obligated to follow the council's recommendation.

The council also asked the airport board to suspend approval of non-essential out-of-state travel by airport staff and board members until the audit is completed.

In addition, the council agreed to freeze all appointments made by Newberry to the board until the audit is completed.

That decision would not affect Newberry's appointment on Monday of Ed Lane as his representative on the board. But it did halt Newberry's appointment of former Councilman David Stevens to fill the board seat vacated by Robert Dawson.

Lovely's term as board chairman was already scheduled to end next week. He has been chairman for three years and has a year and a half left on his term as a member of the board.

Lovely could not be reached for comment.

Luallen began looking into the airport's finances and expenses at the request of the council after a Herald-Leader report raised questions about Gobb spending more than $200,000 on travel and expenses in a little more than two years.

The 15 members who comprise the council's committee of the whole recommended asking Lovely to step down as chairman.

During discussion, council members debated whether they should also call for Lovely to resign from the board.

Some council members said that Lovely needs to be removed because of negative public perception about the growing expense scandal.

"This is not personal with Bernie Lovely," said Councilwoman Linda Gorton, who wanted to ask for Lovely's resignation. "Because Bernie is so close to this, he should step down in the interest of public faith and trust."

Other council members said that it wouldn't be right to single Lovely out because Luallen's audit isn't complete.

Asking for Lovely's resignation now would give the public the impression that he was involved as a co-conspirator, Councilwoman Diane Lawless said. "The public will think we know a lot more than we do."

Once the audit is complete, the council can ask for the resignations of people "with the full context of facts," said Councilman Tom Blues. "We don't have the full facts yet."

Others argued that the entire airport board will need to be reconstituted, and the resignation of Lovely would be a step toward that, said Councilman George Myers. "It's about acts of omission, not commission."

As the board chairman, Lovely is responsible for oversight of the executive director, said Gray, who suggested asking Lovely to step down as chairman and remove himself from the airport's operations.

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