Order in the airport

The Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board on Tuesday adopted new policies aimed at tightening internal controls, even going so far as to encourage employees and the public to report any suspicions of wrongdoing.

One could callously argue that the board did nothing more than close the barn door after the horse has already bolted. But we applaud the action as a necessary step in restoring trust in airport operations.

With a federal prosecutor looking on, the board adopted measures for tackling fraud, including a whistleblower policy — the first of its kind in Grand Junction. The policy creates a mechanism for anyone to report fraud — even “dishonest acts” — via the Airport Authority’s website or a yet-to-be established fraud hotline. It also protects airport employees from retaliation if they lodge a report.

There are still no explicit details about why the FBI and the U.S. Department of Transportation executed a search warrant at the airport last November. Records associated with the matter are under seal. The FBI has acknowledged that the investigation centers on fraud allegations against airport administration.

Since then, the board has slowly tried to get the airport’s house in order. The board fired Rex Tippetts from his job as airport aviation director in December. The board hired an expert attorney with experience in federal criminal matters and authorized an internal probe of its own. Denny Granum, the former Airport Authority board chairman, was asked to resign by the Mesa County Commission, which appointed him. At the time, we questioned the handling of Granum’s dismissal, but we acknowledge that his departure was necessary in establishing a clean bill of health with federal authorities.

Hopefully, the Airport Authority’s actions will demonstrate the serious structural changes necessary to safeguard future federal funding for airport improvements.

The airport is an important community asset, not just to Grand Junction, but to western Colorado. It looms large in future plans for the area. It needs to proceed unencumbered by the taint of an investigation. Five of the six Airport Authority board members are new in the past year. And they’re taking steps to prove that the Grand Junction Regional Airport is a good investment and a sound fiscal agent for administering federal money. Whatever the federal probe turns up, we hope the U.S. Department of Justice recognizes the effort by the Airport Authority to make a fresh start.


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