A jury trial has been scheduled for next September in the lawsuit by fired Butler County airport manager Ron Davis, who wants his $94,000 job back.
Davis, who worked for Butler County for 18 years, sued in April, saying he was terminated from his $93,710 job because he complained about alleged Federal Aviation Administration rules violations. He says the sheriff is impermissably using a warehouse on airport property and questioned some financial moves the county has made.
The county is asking Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth to toss the case out. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning, but since Spaeth had a jury trial going on at the same time there wasn’t time for an oral argument.
Spaeth did have time to set the week-long trial for Sept. 16, 2019 and also made sure Davis’ attorneys don’t want him to recuse himself, because the county’s attorney Linda Woeber has represented several other judges on the court.
“Anybody want me off the case…,” Spaeth asked the attorneys. “Some of the other judges I know have recused on this case and I’m left. I really don’t know anybody, I don’t know the dispute, I do know the county commissioners because this is a small county. I don’t fly so I never get out to the airport. So if you have a problem bring it to my attention.”
Woeber is currently representing Judge Greg Stephens in a lawsuit filed by his former magistrate in federal court. Judge Charles Pater was originally assigned to hear Davis’ case but he recused himself.
Davis’ attorneys George Reul and Erin Heidrich told the Journal-News they most likely will not ask Spaeth to recuse himself.
In the motion to dismiss, Woeber said Davis never documented his claims 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 has since filed a complaint with the FAA and that case is still open. In the complaint, he says Sheriff Richard Jones should be paying “fair market” rent for use of a warehouse on land the county used $630,926 in FAA grant funding to buy in 2006. The sheriff stores equipment there for free.
The rest of Davis’ complaint alleges the county may have violated “unlawful revenue diversion” rules with regard to construction of the airport terminal and other capital improvements.
“… 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.”
In response to the motion to dismiss, 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 irregularities with the airport and that the commissioners are required to provide facilities to the sheriff rent-free.
Spaeth told the attorneys they would have his decision on the dismissal motion soon.