Airport Authority chair resigns
Denny Granum resigned as chairman of the Grand Junction Airport Authority on Thursday.
Though the longest-serving commissioner on the current seven-member panel didn’t say exactly why he chose to leave the board two years before his term expires, Granum said in his resignation letter to the Mesa County Board of Commissioners that it was related to the federal investigation into possible fiscal mismanagement of the airport.
“To achieve our joint goals, it is important that all interested parties understand that whatever problems are at the root of the federal investigation, they are being addressed, and the appropriate changes are being made,” Granum wrote to Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, chairman of the county board that appointed him. “I am committed to supporting such necessary changes going forward—whatever they may be. But I also recognize that because of my long standing on the board, some in the public may doubt that I am capable of being impartial in these matters.
“My resignation from the board may help remove any such doubts and ensure that the internal investigation, and the changes which will flow from it, are viewed by one and all as wholly independent and not tethered to the past.”
Three of the Airport Authority board members are appointed by the county, and three by the city of Grand Junction, with the seventh member selected by the other six. The county has already posted the opening on its website seeking a replacement for Granum.
The board routinely picks new officers each January, but they surprisingly made no mention of Granum’s resignation when they did that Thursday evening. One other county-appointed board member, Steve Wood, was selected as the new chairman.
The resignation comes on the heels of the board’s recent firing of the airport’s director of aviation, Rex Tippetts. That occurred at its last meeting in December, a month after FBI and U.S. Department of Transportation agents executed a search warrant of airport financial records, saying only that it was investigating possible financial misconduct.
A federal judge immediately sealed that search warrant, leaving few with any knowledge of what the agents are specifically investigating.
Granum abstained from voting on Tippetts’ firing. Two weeks prior to that, when the board suspended Tippetts with pay, Granum announced that he would abstain on any future votes related to Tippetts.
The resignation also comes in the wake of a federal civil suit against Tippetts and the board by the airport’s former security coordinator, Donna VanLandingham, who alleges that Tippetts fired her in 2011 for threatening to speak out about alleged fraud, some of which may center around a controversial wildlife fence that Tippetts turned into a gated security fence.
Since the federal probe began, the board hired an expert attorney with experience in federal criminal matters and authorized an internal probe of its own.
On Thursday, airport board member Rick Wagner, the third county appointee to the panel, gave a report on the status of that internal probe, but gave few details on what it’s learned so far.
“The consensus from the (board) investigators and the special litigation committee is that we have a number of avenues to pursue based on the preliminary findings that we have,” Wagner said. “I feel satisfied, and I know it’s frustrating to talk in such general terms, that we ... have identified several areas that may have raised concerns to the federal authorities.”
The board went behind closed doors to get more information about that internal probe, emerging only to approve some recommended changes to how the airport operates, presumably to prevent future problems. Another change the board may look at would be to alter the airport’s financial director position, who reports directly to the aviation director, into a comptroller job that is more accountable to the board itself.
The board did approve hiring a forensic accountant to more closely examine the airport’s financial records, retain a special attorney who is conducting the investigation and revive its audit committee, which hasn’t met in some time.
Representatives of the Grand Junction Airport Users and Tenants Association called for more details of the internal investigation, saying it needs to issue a written report into what has been uncovered so far.
“A verbal summary, while helpful, does not satisfy the public right to see work product which they have paid for, and which we believe is subject to open records law,” said association board member Guy Parker.
Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who along with Commissioner John Justman attended Thursday’s meeting, declined to say much about Granum’s resignation other than to thank him for his service.
Pugliese said perhaps it would be a good thing to see all new faces on the board as a result of this turmoil.
“It may be good for the Authority to have a change in direction,” she said. “It seems like they’re making a lot of really positive changes. I think the structural reorganization is going to be really good for accountability.”
Granum, who operates a hangar at the airport, was first appointed to the board in 2006 to complete a term left vacant. He was reappointed in 2008 and again in 2012. His term was set to expire in 2016. Board members generally serve no more than two four-year terms.