Fired Butler County manager launches allegations against county officials

The fired Butler County Regional Airport manager launched several allegations against county commissioners and the sheriff in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Former airport manager Ron Davis is making allegations against the commissioners, sheriff, county administrator and others in a lawsuit seeking reinstatement to his job and its $93,710 salary.

Davis claims he was fired for questioning how airport terminal construction was paid for and warehouse space rented by the sheriff's department at the airport. He claims 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.”

Davis 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 bulk of 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.

“Upon information and belief defendant issued the document to retaliate against the plaintiff for his complaints regarding the sheriff’s use of the warehouse structure without paying fair market value in violation of FAA regulations and for his inquiries regarding airport debt,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit also claims Dixon “falsely asserted in a public meeting” that Davis didn’t inform the commissioners a “key contract” was expiring by year’s end.

The short notice, commissioners said, gave them little time to go out for bid on the contract to run day-to-day operations at the airport.

The former airport administrator claims Sheriff Richard Jones asked him if he could store equipment in the warehouse free of charge back in 2010. He said he told the sheriff since the warehouse was built with FAA funds they needed to get permission to use the building for non-aeronautical purposes and he had to pay fair market value for the use.

After that conversation he said he was shut out of communications with the sheriff but said his former supervisor told him “the sheriff was very happy because he was able to save approximately $60,000 per year by storing the equipment in the warehouse.”

Jones said he cannot discuss the lawsuit.

Davis was fired last June. County Administrator Charlie Young at the time said the airport budget could not sustain Davis' salary. Davis had also been criticized by commissioners for not making the airport a break-even or profitable venture.

Young said county policy prohibits him from addressing all the allegations in the lawsuit, but said he is certain it will be proved the county is not guilty of any wrong-doing.

“I certainly believe the actions of the county have been very appropriate in all of our dealings — certainly since I’ve been here which is 2012 — with the airport and Mr. Davis and the FAA and everyone involved,” he told the Journal-News. “We’ve been very transparent and very above board. I’m very disappointed that Mr. Davis would feel there is something going on.”

For the past several years the commissioners have voiced frustration the general fund has continually had to bail out the airport out to the tune of $40,000 to $50,000 annually, up to as much as $100,000. That doesn’t include the $155,000 in debt payments every year.

“We’re not sitting here saying ‘Cut your budget, cut your budget, cut your budget,’” Dixon said during the budget hearing in 2016. “We’re saying ‘What can we do to increase usage of that facility?’ I haven’t heard anything, not one thing have I heard as a suggestion on how to do that. This is the second or third time we’ve been at this table and had this discussion.”

Performance reviews for Davis over the past couple years show scores of 251 in 2015 and 255 in 2016 out of a possible 325.

Dixon told the Journal-News there was no retaliation in Davis’ firing, but that they couldn’t afford to have him on the payroll anymore.

“I don’t think the county did anything wrong and we have an obligation to the taxpayers,” he said. “Our obligation comes first to the taxpayers to invest their money and handle their money wisely and keep the taxes as low as possible. If that means adjusting the personnel we’re going to adjust the personnel.”

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