Special Reports

Gobb could repay airport $20,000

The board that oversees Lexington's Blue Grass Airport has authorized its chairman to enter into an agreement accepting $20,000 in reimbursements from former airport executive director Michael Gobb.

Representatives of Gobb have indicated Gobb's willingness to repay $10,000 that the airport spent for his benefit just before he took a medical leave of absence from his job in July 2008, plus an additional $10,000, according to airport officials.

"We don't have a signed agreement yet," airport board attorney Tom Halbleib said.

"We're trying to make it happen," said Patrick Nash, Gobb's attorney. "Now we've got to hammer out an actual written agreement."

If Gobb agrees to pay the $20,000, the airport board would grant him a release from board claims arising from purchases he made using airport money, which were outlined in a state auditor's report.

State Auditor Crit Luallen's office audited the airport after the Herald-Leader began publishing in November a series of articles about airport officials' spending of airport money. In February, Luallen released a report that indicated there had been more than $500,000 in questionable expenses made by seven airport officials from Jan. 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2008.

In that time period, Gobb had $152,763.25 in questionable or unsupported credit card charges and an additional $28,527.68 in questionable or unsupported expenses for which direct payments were made, according to the auditor's report.

Airport board chairman J. Robert Owens said he was looking forward to settling the matter with Gobb. "It is a fair settlement for the airport and results in recovery of expenses which were deemed inappropriate," he said.

However, Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray criticized the deal.

"Here we go again. This deal makes it clear that these boards lack the oversight that's needed to safeguard the people's money," Gray said.

Shortly after the first newspaper articles on the scandal were published, Gray called for the audit by Luallen's office as well as the resignation of then-airport board chairman Bernard Lovely. (Lovely completed his stint as board chairman but remains on the board.)

"I don't believe $20,000 adequately addresses this scandal," Gray said. The proposed agreement lacks transparency, he added. "How do we learn from our mistakes if they're swept under the rug and hidden from view?"

Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry had no comment.

As of early August, Gobb had reimbursed the airport $4,818.47 and had returned numerous items bought with airport money, according to airport officials. The total included repayment of about $1,900 for a plane ticket to Hawaii that Gobb used in January, after resigning from his job, and $1,000 that the airport paid him for partial payment for cross-training equipment.

The money that Gobb has already repaid the airport is not part of the settlement being worked out now.

A $10,000 check issued by airport officials in July 2008 to help Gobb with medical expenses had been in dispute for some time. The airport board claimed the money was a loan, while Gobb claimed it was part of his compensation as the airport's executive director. Now the two sides are agreeing in principle that it was a loan, Nash said.

Gobb took a medical leave from his job from mid-July to early September 2008. In addition to issuing the $10,000 check, records indicate that the airport paid for a one-way plane ticket to Tucson, Ariz., for Gobb on the same day he requested the leave. Records also show that Gobb charged $102 to his airport credit card a couple of days later at a Tucson-area treatment facility that treats patients with a wide range of conditions.

After a closed session Wednesday, the airport board adopted a resolution authorizing the board chairman to enter into an agreement accepting $20,000 from Gobb.

Nash said he thinks a settlement will be reached soon.

"I can't imagine them (the airport board) wanting to drag it out very long," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, Gobb is still in Lexington but has had some difficult times.

"It's all been pretty tough on him," he said.

Gobb and three airport directors, John Coon, John Slone and John Rhodes, stepped down from their positions in January amid questions about their spending.

A criminal investigation was begun after the state auditor's office began looking into airport officials' expenditures.

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