Airport board adopts policy amid probe, with prosecutor at meeting
With a federal prosecutor looking on in the audience, the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board Tuesday adopted formal policies aimed at protecting workplace whistleblowers as well as rules governing the handling of airport assets.
Mike Morgan, the Airport Authority’s attorney, said the first-of-its-kind whistleblower policy for Grand Junction “goes beyond criminal fraud to other dishonest acts.”
“In addition, this policy assigns responsibility for the development of adequate internal controls and performance of investigations relating to fraud,” reads a draft document.
The policy encourages, “GJRAA contractors, tenants or vendors and the public at large” to report fraud on a link that will be added to the Airport Authority’s webpage, in addition to a fraud hotline. Unresolved from Tuesday was the hotline number itself, or who will manage it.
Interim Director of Aviation Amy Jordan said quotes from possible outside service providers for a hotline have come back upward of $3,500, per month, for the service.
“That’s a little steep,” she said.
Jordan was asked by the board to seek more information from third-party providers for such systems.
One board member said they should list the Mesa County Crime Stoppers phone number — a suggestion which drew laughs.
The new policy prohibits retaliation, in any form, by any Airport Authority employee against another employee who lodges a report.
“However, it shall also be a violation of this policy for any informant to make a baseless allegation of fraudulent activity that is made with reckless disregard for truth and that is intended to be disruptive or to cause harm to another individual,” the draft says.
In a related move, the board also unanimously adopted a new policy concerning the disposal of Airport Authority assets, such as vehicles and furniture. A section of the new policy reads, “No board member or employee of GJRAA or members of their immediate family shall be permitted to purchase or otherwise acquire any GJRAA asset, including through sale in a public forum.”
Sitting in on Tuesday’s regular meeting, which was held in the public hearing room of Grand Junction City Hall, was Grand Junction-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer.
Records from a Nov. 6, 2013, search warrant executed at the airport by the FBI and U.S. Department of Transportation remain filed under seal. The FBI has acknowledged an investigation centered on fraud allegations against airport administration.
The Daily Sentinel confirmed the FBI’s seizure of pickup trucks owned by former board chairman Denny Granum, and former aviation director Rex Tippetts, on Jan. 13 and Jan. 14, respectively.
While adopting policies for tackling fraud, the airport board Tuesday also struggled to understand a $92,000 invoice from Jviation, an aviation design and construction firm.
Nobody associated with the Airport Authority knew what the bill was for.
“This is one of those (piles) this board is left to deal with,” board Chairman Steve Wood said.
While submitting the invoice for payment, Jviation also asked the airport board to retroactively approve a contract for a “Remote Transmitter Relocation” project. Jviation’s invoice lists $92,094 for “preliminary design” work on the project.
To date, according to testimony during Tuesday’s meeting, that work consists of a 16-page document produced by Jviation.
Wood expressed concern about signing off on payment for services listed in a contact that was adopted retroactively, for work nobody could account for.
Board member and Grand Junction Mayor Sam Susuras asked Morgan if they can approach Tippetts, through his attorneys, for information about what arrangement he’d made with Jviation.
“Given the circumstances (of the federal probe), it’s unlikely we’d get a response,” Morgan said.
The board voted to hold off paying the invoice until Jviation produces more information about it, while authorizing a letter instructing Jviation to suspend work on any other Grand Junction airport projects.
Susuras was the lone board member who voted to authorize payment of the mystery bill.