Special Reports

Blue Grass Airport might cut job, pay

As part of the reorganization of Blue Grass Airport's management structure, the airport's board of directors is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal to eliminate one job and reduce the salaries for several other positions.

The job of Debbie Kelly, the manager of administration, is apparently being eliminated. Kelly was not at work on Monday, and a receptionist in the airport's administrative offices told a reporter that "Debbie isn't working here now."

But airport officials were not all singing the same tune about the job on Monday. "It's a change that Eric made," board chairman J. Robert Owens said, referring to airport interim executive director Eric Frankl.

"He was going to eliminate her position, so I assume that was done."

However, David Wescott, a spokesman for the airport, said Kelly is still on the payroll.

Frankl did not return a phone call. And further attempts to reach Kelly were unsuccessful.

The airport board's internal affairs committee is recommending to the full board that Kelly's $79,000-plus a year job be eliminated. A consulting firm, Jacobs Consultancy, recommended in February that Kelly's position be "recast" as the position of executive assistant and that the pay range for the new post be $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

The recommendations followed Herald-Leader reports regarding airport officials' questionable expenses and salaries that were much higher than at airports of comparable size.

Four top airport positions were left vacant in January after executive director Michael Gobb and directors John Coon, John Rhodes and John Slone resigned amid questions about their spending of airport money. State auditor Crit Luallen's office found more than $500,000 in questionable expenses over a three-year period by several airport officials, including the four who resigned. A criminal investigation is now under way.

Wescott said the change in Kelly's job status was not a result of a "disciplinary issue."

Kelly was one of only three airport employees remaining whose expenses were included in Luallen's audit. Kelly had nearly $56,000 in questionable or unsupported expenses over those three years, according to Luallen's audit.

Wescott and Owens indicated that if Kelly wants the reconfigured job, she would have to apply for the executive assistant job when it is posted.

"We're just going to post the job, and whoever the best candidate is that applies will get that position," Owens said. "There may be some of these positions that we won't fill for a while."

In addition to voting on whether to eliminate Kelly's job, the full board is expected to decide Wednesday whether to accept a proposal that the airport executive director's salary be between $135,000 and $165,000. (Gobb made about $220,000 a year, and Frankl is making more than $192,000.)

The board also is expected to vote on a proposal that top managers below the executive director have a salary of $90,000 to $120,000. (Brian Ellestad, the only remaining airport director, now makes more than $135,000 a year. He makes less than the three directors who resigned.)

Owens said the board is considering hiring a consultant to help fill the executive director position on a permanent basis, and that his intention is not to address the permanent position until sometime in the fall.

"We're taking our time at this and want to do it right," he said.

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