After scandal and prosecution, ex-airport director Michael Gobb says there are lessons to be learned from his experience
Lexington, KY – It was a scandal that reverberated throughout the city of Lexington: a front page article in the Lexington Herald-Leader appear-ing just days before Thanksgiving in 2008 bearing the headline: “A sky-high expense account.”
The article, detailing excessive travel and gift expenses of now former Blue Grass Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb would lead not only to Gobb’s resignation in disgrace and conviction on criminal charges, but also the departures and convictions of three airport directors who answered to Gobb.
It would also lead to scrutiny of the extent and quality of the airport board’s oversight and be followed by revelations of questionable executive practices and board oversight at numerous other local institutions.
Board governance and the oversight of executives would never be the same in Lexington, Ky.
Neither would the life of Mike Gobb.
Now divorced, his family gone from Lexington and his future uncertain, this once proud senior executive, credited with overseeing the development of what many consider one of the finest small airports in the nation, is ready to discuss the experiences of recent years.
BL (Business Lexington): It has been more than a year and a half since you were sentenced to five years on theft by deception charges, the sentence reduced to probation under threat of 60 days in jail if you got into any more trouble with the law. You are still living in Lexington, but life has become relatively quiet for you, and yet you have now agreed to discuss what happened and what was going on, at that time and since then, from your perspective. So first of all, why do you want to talk about it now?
MG (Michael Gobb): I did not want to miss this opportunity to bring attention to the path back from major life setbacks. This interview is not about making excuses or to rationalize behavior; it is about my decision to change and to make amends. There are lessons to be learned from the situation at the airport, hard and soft.
Blue Grass Airport was/is a successful organization in every measurable way. Over the 10 years that I was there, we essentially rebuilt or put into motion the rebuilding of the entire airport. We were named one of the fastest growing airports in the country. We had developed a schedule of airline service that is the envy of other small hub airports. We received awards for cutting-edge work. We did all of this while becoming a valued community partner. I do not want the success of the airport to be lost on this scandal.
BL: Your sentencing also required the completion of 500 hours of community service. What community service have you completed?
MG: I have completed the required 500 hours of community service and continue to work with community support organizations on an ongoing basis. I learned the most about myself, the disease of alcoholism and where that disease can take you while working with the Hope Center. They have a tremendous program working with men who are struggling, and I was fortunate enough to be a small part of that program. I also realized, through these hours, that the road to recovery takes many forms, and I see that a spiritual solution was essential for me.
BL: Going back to your time as director of Blue Grass Airport — when and why, do you feel, did the questionable judgment in terms of your expense spending begin? What was going on in Michael Gobb’s head at the time?
MG: When, about 2006; the why is the difficult part.
Prior to my tenure with the airport, it operated more as a business than a governmental organization. Over time I bought into that position and perpetuated that culture. I also used the phrase that we should go “above and beyond” in everything we did. And we did — sometimes to excess.
As to what was going on in my head — in 2008, I sought treatment for alcoholism, addiction to prescription pain medication, depression and post-traumatic stress. Beginning in mid-2006, I began using alcohol to overcome the memories and nightmares associated with the crash of Flight 5191. Alcohol became a regular part of my daily life. I made poor decisions and gave very little oversight to my direct reports.
BL: While it was going on, did you feel like you were doing anything wrong? How do you feel about it now?
MG: While it was going on, I felt a sense of entitlement to be rewarded for achievements. As I look back upon the expenses drawn into question, I feel embarrassed that I sought reimbursement for such items. I was compensated generously, and many of the expenses should have been covered by me personally.