Document details Kenton County Airport Board's plan to oust CVG CEO

HEBRON, Ky. – Some members of the Kenton County Airport Board had a detailed plan in place to oust the CEO of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, according to documents obtained Thursday by WCPO.

The undated strategy is a direct contradiction to previous claims by Board Chairman Jim Huff that there was not a plan to remove CEO Candace McGraw from office.

The document details talking points on how some board members planned to remove McGraw from office, including what they would say to the public regarding her termination or forced resignation.

"Some members of the executive committee and I have had serious concerns with the CEO’s performance. We have been concerned about, among items, construction cost overruns and poor communication," said Huff in a statement Thursday. Huff had previously said on multiple occasions that there were no plans to push McGraw out.

"She has lost the confidence of some members of the board’s executive committee."

"Her personal status has been discussed many times. This document was prepared in the event a vote was taken to terminate her. But those votes were neither called nor taken," continued Huff.

The document is the latest example of strife between some members of the airport board and its CEO, which is worrisome to area business leaders. They contend that the board's behind-doors bickering and apparent dissension could stymie efforts to increase flights and attract business, which is vital to the economic health of the region.

Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus, who appointed Huff and the other six executive committee board members, said he supports the board and any decisions that they make.

"All CEOs are subject to criticism—it's the nature of the business. We need to support their decisions—that's why they're the board, to keep politics out of it," said Arlinghaus, who also said that the bickering is an embarrassment to the entire community.

The document obtained by WCPO outlines:

  • Three scenarios for McGraw's departure including resignation, termination
  • Talking points for the media, regarding how to address her resignation or termination
  • Plans for McGraw's succession
  • Background material for media, including financial and management concerns regarding her leadership

Read the document here.

Scenario No. 1 in the document assumes McGraw would reach an agreement with the board about resigning. In the public statement, the board would state:

“We appreciate Candace’s service to the airport over the past two years and we wish her the best in her future endeavors,” said Jim Huff, chairman of the airport’s board of directors.

The document goes on to outline McGraw’s replacement, giving control to Huff, board vice chair Larry Savage, airport attorney Wil Ziegler, and chief financial officer Sheila Hammons, until a successor is named.

The second scenario assumes the board would have to fire McGraw and includes a different comment for the public.

“She has had two years to prove to the board of directors that she had the management skills needed to operate our airport in the manner the board expected, and the majority of the board ultimately decided that has not met those expectations during her time as CEO,” said Jim Huff, chairman of the airport’s board of directors. “Basically, she has lost the support and confidence of a majority of the board.”

In the case of her termination, the document states that the airport board would conduct a national search for her replacement.

In the final scenario as planned in the document, McGraw would go on the offensive, conducting a PR campaign, after she “negatively reacts to the board’s decision to terminate her position.”

In that case, public would be given more information about McGraw.

“The primary reasons why a majority of the airport’s board of directors terminated Candace McGraw as CEO was her continuing pattern of poor communication with board members, her failure to respond to the board member requests for information and documentation, and a growing lack of confidence in her interpersonal and management skills.”

Financial concerns documented include McGraw’s management over a $7 million runway project and authorizing $100,000 on sporting sponsorships in 2013 without the board’s approval.

Randy Freking, McGraw’s attorney, has seen the document and said all three options were rejected.

“The majority of the board believes that her performance is excellent. Let her do her thing. This is a total distraction when she’s just trying to focus on her job,” said Freking.

“Candace believes that Mr. Huff is making false statements about her because he wants to oust her from her position. I don’t know if it’s because of her gender, but for some reason he’s on this campaign to make false statements.”

“It’s a lot of 'Huffing' and 'Huffing' and 'Huffing', and he wants to blow Candace McGraw’s house down,” said Freking, who continued on to say that he believes Huff wants to replace McGraw as CEO with a male--possibly Savage.

Other documents obtained by WCPO, include:

  • Draft of an independent assessment by the Hay Group on McGraw
  • Emails between board members discussing McGraw, Huff and the board’s dysfunction
  • A letter to Gov. Steve Beshear regarding board members
  • A letter to the board emphasizing the need to work together

The documents were obtained just two days after Huff and his wife Bertha, filed a federal lawsuit alleging airport employee Carol Spaw violated federal wiretap laws by recording a call he inadvertently made with his cell phone.

Huff, a member of the executive committee, alleges in the lawsuit that Spaw, an employee of CVG for 18 years and McGraw’s administrative assistant, recorded a 91-minute call he mistakenly made with his cellphone to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport's administrative offices while on a board-related trip to Italy on Oct. 24.

"They called her and she wasn't sure what to do... she overheard two board members' plans to try and oust Mrs. McGraw," said Spaw’s attorney, also Freking.

During the conversation, Huff and Savage, the vice chairman of the airport board, talked about demoting McGraw and replacing her with Savage as CEO.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky, alleges Spaw violated federal wiretap laws when she recorded the call, then transcribed the tape and disseminated the transcript—which included not only a conversation between Huff and his wife, but also Huff and fellow board member Larry Savage, who also sits on the executive committee.

Spaw's attorney Randy Freking said Spaw was adhering to the board's rules and regulations and the lawsuit is "ridiculous" and no more than retaliation for whistleblowing — which is illegal to sue over in Kentucky.

“(The call) indicated inappropriate conduct of board members and she reported it to her boss immediately," said Freking of Spaw,, who reported the phone call to McGraw.

From there, Freking said, McGraw turned it over to Audit Committee Chairman Frank Kling, who resigned from the board on Sunday. Both Savage and Huff are the only other board members on the Audit Committee.

Arlinghaus said that while he only found out about the lawsuit Tuesday, Kling gave him documentation on Nov. 1 to read over. But he said that he couldn’t be sure what he was reading.

“I don’t know the authenticity of that document. It was unclear… anyone can put a document together and say, ‘Here, read this.’”

“I cannot even tell you the true content of the conversation,” said Arlinghaus. “I glanced at it and gave it back.”

Without further examination, Arlinghaus did not read about the details of the private conversation as Huff outlined out in the suit.

"...Spaw answered the accidental phone call...and eavesdropped on the private, face-to-face conversations,'' the suit alleges. Further, it says Spaw "acting in concert with others, transcribed select portions of the private, face-to-face conversations."

After the "private" phone call, Huff called Spaw from his cell phone, who at no time, according to the lawsuit, informed Huff that she had eavesdropped on or recorded the prior phone call detailing plans to oust her boss.

Back in August, some board members discussed McGraw’s fate in a closed-to-the-public executive session, which was called to discuss personnel matters. However, Huff has denied that the discussion was to oust the CEO.

The board discussed better communication between McGraw and the board, but that no votes were cast and no action was taken during the closed-door meeting, said Huff in August.

“You have to have a board and CEO (who) work together on everything and have to coordinate and that’s all we’re working on. Same page. Same step,” said Huff. “(There are) bumps in the road… (We’re) trying to make everything smooth.

Some area business leaders worry the board's behind-doors bickering and apparent dissension could stymie efforts to increase flights and attract business, which is vital to the economic health of the region.

Arlinghaus said he’s not worried about attracting businesses to CVG.

"It's my personal belief that airlines will come here if they can make money. This won't detour that," said Arlinghaus.

Another hit to those efforts could be the board's spending habits.

“When you see $20,000 spent by the board chairman to take a round-trip trip to a conference in Italy, certainly that raises the question on whether those are legitimate expenses or not,” said Edelen.

It was just a few weeks ago that Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen announced that his office would conduct a special examination into the board's spending and traveling, including the trip to Italy where the phone call was made.

Per Kentucky's Freedom of Information Act, WCPO has filed open records requests with the airport for the recordings and transcripts detailed in the lawsuit.

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