Airport manager should be suspended
One question jumps out at us — and we suspect many other people — as we continue to observe the unfolding drama at Grand Junction Regional Airport:
Why is airport manager Rex Tippetts still on the job?
This is not meant to imply that Tippetts, whose official title is aviation director, is guilty of anything or deserves to be fired. We have no more information than anyone else in that regard.
What we do know is that Tippetts is the top man in an airport administration that is currently under investigation by the FBI for some alleged criminal activity. Whether Tippetts is guilty of any wrongdoing or not — and we fervently hope that isn’t the case — his daily presence at the airport headquarters simply creates too many potential problems.
Now that the Airport Authority board has decided to conduct its own investigation into what’s been going on at the airport, Tippetts’ continuation on the job is even more problematic.
If he has a confrontation with one of the airport staff or needs to discipline an employee, as is occasionally the case with a top administrator, will his actions be perceived by the employee or someone else as an attempt to intimidate the employee to limit how he or she interacts with investigators?
Tippetts still has access to countless airport documents not confiscated by the FBI that could be pertinent to both the federal and local investigations. Even if he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, Tippetts’ access to those documents and his handling of them may raise suspicions that something untoward is occurring.
Simply put, Tippetts cannot effectively perform his job dutiess under the current circumstances, and his continued presence at the administrative offices is a liability for the airport.
We think the Airport Authority’s decision to conduct its own investigation, including a detailed financial audit of the airport, is correct and necessary. Hiring an outside attorney with a background in dealing with fraud is also a necessity, even if it will be costly.
In hindsight, such an investigation, and especially the audit, should have been undertaken much sooner. But, while a few people involved with the airport have claimed there were serious problems over the past couple of years, most observers, this newspaper included, didn’t see evidence of anything more than significant policy differences.
Now, the Airport Authority is hustling to try to determine what the federal investigation is all about, in the absence of any information being forthcoming from the FBI. It is also eager to assure the community, the FAA and bond-rating organizations that it is doing all it can to keep operations of the airport on an even keel throughout the concurrent investigations and whatever their aftermath may be.
That’s a difficult task under the circumstances. It won’t be made easier by Tippetts’ continued presence at the airport. He should be suspended, with or without pay, until the investigations are completed.