Opinion: Allegations at the airport | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Allegations at the airport

Jim Hoffman
Free Press Weekly Opinion Columnist

Well, here we go with an excellent end to a 2013.

Monday is the deadline for this column and late Saturday night the computer dies, leaving me without the half-written column that was previously begun on Wednesday of last week. A minor problem for sure, but just one more in what has become a long string of issues big and small competing with the spirit of the Christmas season and the thoughts of a joyous New Year. One more little irritant threatening to increase blood pressure to a new personal high. No, I shall not wallow in self-pity. Life is good with a few challenges along the way.

The firing of Rex Tippetts was one subject of commentary in that now lost column. The Airport Authority did not reveal the reasoning for the axing of Tippetts, an at-will employee, but clearly stated the action did not indicate complicity in any crime or fraud at the airport.

In his defense, Tippetts’ attorney reminded the current board of the glowing performance reviews Rex has received from previous board members. It would have be hard to determine if that fact amounted to an actual defense of Tippetts or a possible indictment of some previous board members. One would hope that it is the former rather than the latter.

At that point in time, some facts were beginning to leak about an impending lawsuit which had been served on Mr. Tippetts and the Airport Authority board of directors. Early whispering indicated the suit would throw the covers off the emerging scandal at the airport and cast some light on the mystery that began when FBI agents showed up and carted off evidence in their investigation of fraud within the administration of the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

As facts of specific allegations within the suit began to emerge, there were indications the possible fraud could be wider ranging and involve a greater number of personalities than was originally anticipated. Allegations directly accused members of the Airport Authority of purchasing “used” airport equipment at below-market value. Some rumors have indicated that among this equipment is likely trucks that were purchased from a local car dealer.

Other allegations are that family members of the Authority board were awarded contracts for work at the airport. Additionally, there are claims that preferred bidders had access to what should have been privileged information that gave them great advantage in the securing of contracts for airport projects. And, of course, the security fence erected at the airport and the rationale for it are also covered within the suit.

While we can hope that these allegations prove largely false, prior experience has unfortunately taught us that avarice and greed exist. The investigation has already cost one reputation, and more are likely to be tarnished at a minimum. No arrests or indictments have yet materialized, so we can only sit on the sidelines and await the next revelation.

As of today claims within the suit are merely allegations of a prior employee who shall be painted as disgruntled. The employee also agreed in a separation agreement not to take legal action on the matter of her termination. Those are issues for the lawyers and courts to resolve.

It cannot be denied that during the reign of Mr. Tippetts our local airport has undergone improvement. Those improvements shall now likely be overshadowed by this darkening cloud over Tippetts, the Airport Authority, and the lack of oversight of our local City Council and County Commission. Also, we may see the unraveling of future airport expansion and the planned new hangar for West Star Aviation and it’s promised 150+ jobs paying $52,000 per year on average. An entity accused of financial fraud and impropriety is not a likely issuer of bonds or recipient of grant funds.

As new allegations and facts emerge, we shall see how many rush to distance themselves from Tippetts and their support for him. Furthermore, it is likely we shall see some distance themselves from their personal involvement on the Airport Authority board and begin claiming they were uninformed, ill-informed and were in no way responsible for their actions, Tippetts’ actions or any illegality at the airport.

GJ Free Press columnist Jim Hoffman is a local Realtor and investor who, when not working, loves skiing, camping and fishing (in season). He may be reached at freepressjim@gmail.com.

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