Special Reports

More airport officials might leave

The chairman of Blue Grass Airport's board said Monday that more high-ranking airport officials could follow executive director Michael Gobb out the door in light of questionable spending practices.

"It would be fair to say that further departures are indeed a possibility," Bernard Lovely told the Herald-Leader's editorial board.

Lovely singled out John Rhodes, the airport's administration and finance director, saying it was clear that he "did not fulfill his responsibilities."

As the chief financial officer at the airport, Rhodes was supposed to allow the payment of Gobb's expenses only after Lovely signed off on them. In several instances, Lovely said he did not see Gobb's airport credit-card statements.

Lovely also questioned whether his initials were forged on some of Gobb's expense reports.

"It's our (the airport board's) belief and our understanding that Mike would turn in his credit card statements without giving them to me for review and would tell the CFO that I had approved it," Lovely said. "There may even be instances where my initials were put on some of them."

Rhodes could not be reached for comment.

Lovely's comments came one day before the airport board was scheduled to elect new officers. Lovely, whose term as chairman is up but who has another year and a half to go on the board, is expected to be replaced as chairman by J. Robert Owens, who has been serving as the board's treasurer.

Owens, a certified public accountant, is area president and chief executive officer of RPS/Equity Group, a subsidiary of Risk Placement Services Inc. He is also a licensed pilot.

Lovely said he did not read a story in Sunday's Herald-Leader about charges that the airport's four directors — who worked directly under Gobb — had made on their credit cards.

But he said it appeared that three of six tickets to a Hannah Montana concert that cost nearly $2,200 were used by Gobb, his daughter and a friend of his daughter. The charge was made on the credit card of airport marketing and community relations director Brian Elle stad.

Lovely said board members, as well as the state auditor's office, were continuing an investigation to determine whether some questionable expenses were made out of "stupidity" and whether Gobb pressured or encouraged subordinates to charge things for him on their airport credit cards, thus circumventing airport policies and procedures.

He went on to say that some questionable charges on the other managers' airport credit-card statements mentioned in the Sunday article were requested by Gobb and made on Gobb's behalf.

The outgoing airport board chairman said that board members did exercise oversight when it came to expenses.

"They thought adequate oversight was in place," he said. "We had a checks-and-balance system that didn't work."

Last week, the airport board canceled credit cards held by seven airport employees.

In addition to electing new officers, the Blue Grass Airport board is expected to hear from a consultant about possible changes that could be made in running the airport.

Gobb resigned from his position Jan. 2 at a meeting of the airport board called in part to vote on whether to fire him.

His departure came little more than a month after Herald-Leader articles documented that in less than two and a half years he had spent more than $200,000 in airport money for travel and other expenses.

Lovely indicated that he was much like a lawyer defending a client he thought he knew, after those initial articles appeared.

"What I discovered is the Mike Gobb I didn't know."

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