Special Reports

Three airport workers resign over nepotism

Three part-time employees at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport resigned Friday after airport officials found that they had been working in departments managed by relatives.

The resignations came during an ongoing scandal at the airport that had already led to the resignations of four top airport managers, including executive director Michael Gobb.

Acting airport director Alfred Testa Jr. said part of his job is to go over the airport's policies and procedures, including the policy related to nepotism.

"It came up that Mr. Gobb had OK'd some exceptions without notifying the (airport) board," Testa said Tuesday.

"As soon as we were made aware of their employment, we asked for their resignation," he said.

The three who resigned are Lindsey Coon, the daughter of former airport operations director John Coon, who resigned last week amid questions about his spending of airport money, and Christopher Cousins and Cody Cousins, sons of airport administration manager Debbie Kelly.

Lindsey Coon worked 20 hours a week as a dispatcher in operations, which her father headed. She was making $11.54 an hour, said David Wescott, a spokesman for the airport. Christopher Cousins worked 10 to 16 hours a week at the airport's information booth. He made $10.40 an hour. His brother, Cody Cousins, worked 20 hours a week at the information booth, making $10 an hour, Wescott said. The Cousins brothers' jobs were in administration, where their mother works, according to Testa.

The Blue Grass Airport board's Employee Policy and Procedures Manual says members of an employee's immediate family will not be hired to work in the same department.

Meanwhile, Robert Owens, the airport board's new chairman, said late last week that he was being inundated with résumés from people seeking management positions at the airport and that the airport board had talked to a few interested in top jobs. Owens said he had solicited résumés from outside the airport and that current airport employees were also welcome to apply for jobs.

However, Owens said, the airport's organizational structure is being redefined, and it's too early to tell how many management positions will be available.

Gobb resigned Jan. 2, a few weeks after Herald-Leader articles revealed that he had spent more than $200,000 of the airport's money on travel and other expenses in less than 21/2 years. His resignation came at a special meeting of the airport board that was called to decide whether to discipline or fire him.

John Coon, airport administration and finance director John Rhodes, and planning and development director John Slone resigned after it was revealed that they, along with the airport's director of marketing and community relations, had spent at least $332,000 on their airport-issued credit cards in three years.

Testa, who was brought to the airport by Jacobs Consultancy, which has been hired to lead the airport through the current crisis, said Tuesday that airport property held by John Coon, Rhodes and Slone had been turned in.

"I'm still waiting for Mr. Gobb's return of airport-purchased properties," he said. (Gobb returned to Lexington Saturday after spending nearly two weeks in Hawaii, where he attended a conference sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives.)

He said that many of the items turned in are being "preserved for the investigation."

Kentucky state auditor Crit Luallen's office is conducting an audit of the airport. And the Kentucky attorney general's office recently notified Blue Grass Airport officials of an ongoing criminal investigation related to "the practices of staff at the airport."

Testa, who has been getting to know airport staffers, vendors and other entities affiliated with Blue Grass Airport, said the airport staff was "a little bit uptight" when he first arrived on the scene last week.

He met first with the airport's office staff, telling them he wanted to see a smile on everyone's face — otherwise they were in the wrong job, he said. "I saw a collective sigh of relief," he said. He said it seemed like they had not had fun in the past at the airport. "It seemed that way, but I told them also I didn't want to hear about anything in the past," he said. "I don't want any perceptions of the past to interfere with my perception of their job performance now."

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