Airport board untangling Tippetts’ web

A $92,000 bill for services specified only as “preliminary design” isn’t the only mystery that Grand Junction Regional Airport officials are working to resolve.

The bill was presented last week to the Airport Authority board, which declined to pay it without more explanation than the proposed contract that accompanied it.

That bill, however, is but one of several issues confronting the board trying to understand an invisible web of obligations and deals struck by the former director of aviation, Rex Tippetts, who the board fired after the FBI raided airport offices last November investigating allegations of fraud.

In many cases, there are no paper trails, only bills that roll in with little or no explanation.

“These are things that Rex held right here,” airport board Chairman Steve Wood said, tapping the side of his head, noting that the airport employees who worked under Tippetts can offer no illumination. “Staff is very much in the dark about these decisions.”

Tippetts discussed few of his decisions with the staff and there is little to no institutional knowledge on the board about Tippetts’ decisions and obligations he entered into for the airport, Wood said.

Many of those decisions precede Wood, the most senior member of the Airport Authority board, having served since 2011.

So, instead of dealing with invoices as a board would normally do, “We’re in fact-finding mode,” looking into management practices that “at best seem highly irregular,” Wood said.

Jviation, the company that submitted the $92,000 bill for phase two of an environmental assessment for “conceptual level Remote Transmitter Relocation design,” is eager to meet with the airport board to explain its understanding of its relationship with the airport, Wood said.

No one from the company, however, offered any explanation to the board when it met Tuesday and Friday. Officials said they couldn’t comment.

Jviation is an aviation engineering, planning and construction firm with offices in Denver, Jefferson City, Mo., and Salt Lake City.

It’s possible that Jviation is working as a subcontractor to Fentress Architects, which is providing construction-administration services to the airport in connection with the administration and firefighting building going up east of the existing terminal, Wood said.

Problem is, though, Fentress officials last month told the board that they were working without a contract.

The airport has paid Fentress’ invoices, Wood said, noting that the evidence of its work in the building under construction is obvious.

Negotiations with Shaw Construction, the company building the structure, meanwhile are continuing, Wood noted.

Another company that has provided services to the airport is Sequent Information Systems, company officials have told the board. The airport likewise seems to have a relationship — but no contract — with another consultant, Mead & Hunt, an architectural and engineering firm.

One difficult aspect of reconstructing the web of business dealings conducted by Tippetts is that some vendors’ payments stand to be delayed.

“We don’t want anybody to get stiffed” on legitimate bills, Wood said. “We simply have to vet these things.”

In the meantime, there are no assurances that other inexplicable invoices won’t arrive at the airport, though Wood said it seemed as though the board is getting a handle on the relationships built by Tippetts.

Still, “I will be surprised if we haven’t found something in the back closet several months hence,” Wood said.



COMMENTS

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Other than getting sweet deals on ‘used’ trucks and such (thanks public funds!) can someone explain what exactly the airport board’s role is?  Every organization I have been involved with, the board of directors has ultimate fiduciary responsibility… did they not attend meetings or merely sleep through them?  The BoCC and city council need to pull their appointed members in front of the councils and demand public accountability.  Something stinks and its not just Rex.

Where were the internal controls?  Where were the audits?  Where was the oversight?

Phase 2 environmental assessments typically cost under $1000

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