Gobb proposal deserves scrutiny

When State Auditor Crit Luallen released the report of her office's audit of Lexington Blue Grass Airport it included an 18-page list of questioned credit card transactions in a three-year span by former airport executive director Mike Gobb.

The more than 700 entries range from $5.62 at Subway to $1,331 at Liquor Barn to $3,744 at the Intercontinental Vienna. They total $152,763.25. Management overall toted up over $500,000 in questionable credit card charges, Luallen reported.

The report noted inadequate supervision by the airport board of Gobb who, it said, "established a culture of wasteful and excessive spending that provided personal benefits for himself and others through inappropriate expenditures and arbitrary personnel actions."

So, it's no surprise some members of the Urban County Council are questioning a proposed settlement between the board and Gobb. The council should keep questioning until it's satisfied the settlement is fair to taxpayers who help support the airport.

The proposed deal would let Gobb off the financial hook for $20,000 — half of it to repay a loan from the airport. For that amount the airport board would release Gobb from claims arising from his purchases.

This sounds suspiciously like Gobb is, again, getting a heckuva deal from the airport. His attorney contends most of the expenses weren't improper but that there wasn't adequate documentation or oversight. Airport board chair J. Robert Owens calls it a "fair settlement ... and results in recovery of expenses which were deemed inappropriate."

As far as we can tell, the council, which has taken an active interest in this scandal and requested the audit by Luallen, only learned of the settlement through a news story. Upset by both the surprise and the terms of the agreement, councilman George Myers asked Attorney General Jack Conway how to proceed. But he declined to advise, saying it would be inappropriate because his office is "actively engaged in the investigation of the matter."

With Mayor Jim Newberry, who appoints members to the airport board, staying resolutely on the sidelines throughout this scandal, it falls to the council to assure a public vetting of any agreement with Gobb.

This gets a little dicey because it isn't and shouldn't be the job of the council to micromanage the work of boards that oversee quasi-public entities.

But the airport and Gobb are a special case because, almost a year after reporter Jennifer Hewlett first began her chronicle of excessive spending, there are still too many surprises and unanswered questions, as well as an ongoing criminal investigation. We're a long way from restoring public trust.

The settlement talk sounds too much like the "trust me" that Gobb and the board used as a blanket response when this scandal first came to light.

The council should keep at it. Remember: Trust but verify.