Fired airport manager fighting for day in court

Former Butler County Regional Airport manager Ron Davis claims he was fired because he was a whistle blower about potential FAA rule violations so his lawsuit should not be tossed.

Davis sued the county in April, saying he was terminated from his $93,710 job because he complained about alleged rule violations regarding the airport’s debt and finances and a free storage ride for the sheriff in an airport building.

Davis, who was airport administrator for 18 years, wants his job back and damages, including emotional distress, punitive and more, according to the lawsuit.

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

She said 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.”

Woeber noted all of Davis’ complaints about the possible FAA violations were verbal and thus unsubstantiated. The only documented communication between Davis and the county regarding his concerns was in the form of an email his boss Development Director David Fehr received shortly before they fired the manager. Davis was responding to a suggestion that his hours and pay be reduced, which he claimed was “retaliatory.”

Davis’ attorneys say he didn’t need to have concrete proof the county acted improperly.

“Davis need not have been correct in his belief that defendant was violating the law,” the response motion reads. “He is only required to have a good faith belief that his complaint was valid.”

One of his gripes involved Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones using a warehouse at the airport rent-free for storage. He says non-aeronautical users must pay fair market value.

There have been complaints about the airport to the federal agency but not by Davis — his attorneys won’t confirm if he has filed anything since his firing. A recent complaint largely deals with the lack of communication between airport owners and the people who use the facility. Maintenance deficiencies was also an itemized issue.

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A complaint review letter from the FAA dated Aug. 17, 2017 recommended the county address some minor issues but dismissed most of the claims. While not one of the complaints the agency was reviewing, the report notes the sheriff’s situation came to their attention and they have launched a separate investigation. However, it acknowledges the county has said the sheriff doesn’t need to pay rent because it is a county office.

Elizabeth Isham Cory with FAA confirmed there is an ongoing investigation regarding the sheriff’s issue and some financial dealings and said it will take awhile to complete. The FAA has not yet responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for document on this complaint.

Woeber said she cannot comment on the lawsuit.

Davis’ attorneys reiterated he has stated valid claims and therefore the lawsuit should continue.

“Davis has alleged that me made numerous specific complaints that defendants violated FAA statutes and regulations and he was subsequently terminated because of those complaints,” his attorneys wrote. “These allegations are sufficient to satisfy the clarity and jeopardy elements and support a claim for termination in violation of public policy.”

The county has maintained there are no financial irregularies with the airport.

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