Where was the airport board?

As the saga of free-spending former Blue Grass Airport Executive Director Mike Gobb has unfolded, some questions about the role of the airport's board have lurked near the surface.

It's time to ask them out in the open.

For starters: What was the board thinking when it approved a compensation package for Gobb far exceeding that of directors of much larger airports?

Where was the board when the travel budget for fiscal 2007 was overspent by 62 percent?

Perhaps most distressing of all is why, when Herald-Leader reporter Jennifer Hewlett began asking hard questions based on the airport's own information, did the board choose to circle the wagons instead of investigate the problems?

Why did no one on the board notice or even sound an alarm as Gobb or his subordinates charged thousands on toys, shotguns and liquor, not mention a hefty bill at a strip club? Did no one think it excessive when Gobb spent $200,000 on travel in a two-year span?

It's not clear that most board members even knew about the expenses, which raises the most fundamental question.

Was the board doing its job? Were members serious about exercising oversight and ensuring adequate controls were in place so they'd know if something went awry?

It's hard to come up with a "yes" on those last two questions.

In fact, the board's denial about the problems was so strong that for weeks after Hewlett's first meticulously reported stories, the public response was to attack the newspaper, not to question the expenses.

Leading the attack was board chair Bernard Lovely, the only board member known to review any of Gobb's expenses. "All those expenses go to the benefit of this airport," he told Hewlett.

Lovely had a different take last week, after Gobb resigned. An internal review showed that some of the expenses, "did not, on their face, appear to be airport charges."

In Gobb's absence, Lovely says he's taking a more active role in management. A committee of the board will soon begin the search for a new director.

Mayor Jim Newberry, who appoints the members of the airport board, has been decidedly hands-off in this situation. He was less than enthusiastic when the Urban County Council asked the state auditor to have a look at airport operations.

As recently as last week he reasserted his "belief that the board members would satisfactorily address management issues as they arise ... That has happened."

Not really.

The only reason the "management issues" arose is that a reporter raised them. With the public, council and the state auditor taking an interest, the board had little choice but to address them.

Gobb's decade at the helm of the airport was productive. He expanded responsibly, attracted new carriers and reached out to the community.

It's a shame the board chose to cheerlead rather than provide the oversight and governance that might have helped him steer a different course.