In this 2016 file photo, then-Butler County Airport Administrator Ron Davis shows off a newly paved section of asphalt during a tour of the facility. NICK GRAHAM/2016

Butler County: Fired manager’s lawsuit claims undocumented, self-serving

Fired Butler County Airport Manager Ron Davis sued the county in April, saying he was terminated from his $93,710 job because he complained about alleged Federal Aviation Administration rules violations.

FIRST REPORT: Former airport manager sues Butler County claiming retaliation

He wants his job back and damages, including emotional distress, punitive and more, according to the lawsuit.

Davis, who was airport administrator for 18 years, claims he was fired for questioning how airport terminal construction was paid for and warehouse space rented at the airport by the sheriff’s department. He said both issues may have violated Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

“… the city of Hamilton, the city of Fairfield, West Chester Twp. and Fairfield Twp. had contributed a combined total of $937,500 to (Butler County) between 2001 and 2004 to pay for the 2001 airport improvements…,” the lawsuit reads. “(Davis) believed that the funds from the neighboring cities had not actually been spent on the airport improvements or to pay down the airport’s debt related to improvements, but instead had been deposited into the county’s general fund.”

MORE: Butler County airport may break even for first time ever

The county’s attorney, Linda Woeber, filed a motion this week to dismiss all claims.

Davis never documented his claims, according to the motion, and his assertion that he was retaliated against doesn’t have support.

“A statute governing acceptable uses of airport revenues, when the airport has been supported by an FAA grant, does not reflect a safety concern or any other Ohio public policy…” Woeber wrote. “… Davis cannot meet the jeopardy element of his burden because he does not assert any facts showing that he put the commissioners on notice that he was vindicating a government policy, rather than his own self-interest.”

The motion notes the only time Davis documented anything — all the allegations are based on alleged conversations — was when he wrote a letter to his former boss, Development Director David Fehr, saying a suggestion to reduce his hours and pay for budget reasons was retaliatory.

Davis also claims in 2010 he was made aware the airport was under $2 million in debt, an obligation he didn’t believe should be there. He says the $1 million cost to build the terminal and a “glide slope” was supposed to almost entirely be covered by the contributions from the neighboring communities. He says FAA loans covered 90 percent of the $2.5 million purchase price and the rest was supposed to be covered by the contributions from Fairfield and Hamilton.

He said after he brought these apparent inconsistencies about the debt up to Commissioner Don Dixon, he was switched from a classified to an unclassified employee working at the pleasure of the commissioners.

However, Woeber produced a a letter dated Dec. 17, 2013, in her motion that shows every employee received the same letter from former Human Resources Director Gary Sheets, notifying them of the classification change, based on the advise of the county’s human resources consultant.

Dixon told the Journal-News the airport has been audited numerous times by the FAA and others and no red flags were raised concerning any of Davis’ allegations.

RELATED: $1.8 million FAA grant coming to Butler County Airport

“I don’t believe there’s been any validity in it and there’s nothing in the paper trail that I’ve seen that shows that,” Dixon said. “So we’ll have to wait and see, it’s going to be decided in court and it will all come out. So we’ll see what it is but I believe the county is in the right position.”

Davis’ attorneys George Reul and Erin Heidrich said they expected the county to ask for the case to be dismissed but they don’t believe it will be.

“It’s common in these type of cases there will be a motion to dismiss,” Reul said. “We certainly intend to respond to the arguments and feel pretty confident the motion will be denied.”

Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.