HEBRON, Ky. – Embattled Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport CEO Candace McGraw’s attorney said Kenton County Airport Board members need to ‘just let her do her job,’ which he added is exactly what she is trying to do.
An independent assessment of her job, requested by -- and paid for -- by the board last spring, indicated that she is mostly doing that job well.
“She really believes that Mr. Huff should put a lid on it. And allow the appropriate people to evaluate her performance, but he seems to have a vendetta against Candace McGraw,” said McGraw’s attorney, Randy Freking about airport board chairman, James Huff.
Documents obtained by WCPO last week outline an elaborate plan, complete with media statements and talking points, to oust McGraw from the job she has held since 2011. Earlier last week, Huff and his wife, Bertha, filed a federal lawsuit against McGraw's administrative assistant alleging she illegally recorded a mistaken call he made with his cell phone while the Huffs and other board members were on a board-related trip to Italy in October.
Both disclosures are the latest in a litany of bickering and squabbling between some members of the airport board and McGraw for months.
That continuous strife, which is directly pointed out in the independent job assessment of McGraw called the Hay Group report, has become worrisome to area business leaders. They contend that the board's apparent dissension could stymie efforts to increase flights and attract business, which is vital to the economic health of the region. CVG has an annual $3.6 billion economic impact, supporting 23,000 jobs.
The Hay Group, a management consulting firm, prepared an executive assessment of McGraw for the board on April 23. According to one board member the independent report cost approximately $70,000.
In an effort to compile their findings and recommendations, the Hay Group interviewed McGraw, board members, Jim Huff, Mark Arnzen, Melanie Healey, Frank Kling, Tim Mauntel and Larry Savage, outside consultant Oris Dunham and Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus.
"All CEOs are subject to criticism—it's the nature of the business," said Arlinghaus, who appointed Huff and the other six executive committee board members. "I think she's done a good job in many ways."
Ouster Plan Despite Independent Review
However, he said, there have been questions and concerns from the Kenton County Airport Board about her performance.
Those concerns apparently prompted some members of the board to create the plan to oust her, which until last week Huff had denied existed.
The strategy details concerns regarding her leadership, as well as 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.
In the case of her termination, the document included this statement to the public:
“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.
"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," Huff in a statement he released Thursday.
"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," the statement said.
In August, some board members discussed McGraw’s fate in a closed-to-the-public executive session, which was called to discuss personnel matters. 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.
In addition to interviews, all board members participated in evaluating her performance for the Hay Group’s assessment, which called her knowledgeable.
“Candace is extremely knowledgeable in aviation business and knows what it will take to move CVG forward and be successful,” the report said.
But it also included areas for her improvement, saying: “Candace has an opportunity to improve her ability to surface and resolve conflict,” and “Candace could focus more on recognizing how her emotions affect her performance.”
- Put additional focus on leading her team.
- Increase her repertoire of leadership styles.
- Refine her relationship and influence strategies with the board.
- Manage her achievement drive, and leverage her power motive.
- Continue to seek feedback and coaching from others.
It was noted in the report, “There was general agreement between the Board member group and the direct report group in how they rated Candace. The Board Chairman tended to rate her lower than the other groups did.”
“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.
The Hay Report also noted the struggles, but stopped short of pointing fingers.
“It is clear that Candace struggles at times with the airport’s Board of Directors. How much of that is Candace’s doing and how much it is the Board’s is unclear,” stated Scott Spreier, who prepared the report.
Board member Nathan Smith noted McGraw's achievements in an interview with WCPO in August.
Under her stewardship, the airport has improved passenger travel and growth in flights that originate out of CVG, he said.
“How do you fire someone with that kind of positive movement?” Smith questioned.
In her tenure, the airport has:
- Expanded DHL.
- Revitalized Concourse A with a $36 million expansion.
- Launched three new carriers: Allegiant announces new service Oct. 15; Ultimate Air Shuttle launched Sept. 9; Frontier launched on May 17.
Even with the new carriers, Delta downsized its hub in 2012 and the number of daily flights has declined from a peak of 670 in 2005 to 180 as of 2012.
Regardless of the airport’s successes and failures, Freking said he believes Huff wants McGraw gone.
“I don’t know if it’s because of her gender, but for some reason he’s on this campaign to make false statements,” said Freking.
“It’s a lot of ‘Huffing’ and ‘Huffing’ and ‘Huffing’, and he wants to blow Candace McGraw’s house down,” he continued.
Plan to Replace Her With Board Vice Chair?
Freking said he believes Huff wants to replace her with a male, and possibly Board Vice Chair Larry Savage.
The recorded private phone call that is the subject of the federal suit alleging federal wiretap laws were violated by McGraw's assistant, Carol Spaw, is further evidence of Huff's plan to remove McGraw, Freking said.
Huff, a member of the executive committee, alleges in the lawsuit that Spaw, an employee of CVG, recorded a 91-minute call he mistakenly made with his cell phone to CVG’s administrative offices on Oct. 24. The suit does not disclose the nature or topic of the conversations, but only indicate conversations were both between Huff and his wife and also between Huff and Savage.
"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, allegedly 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, further alleges that Spaw not only recorded the call, but also transcribed the tape and disseminated the transcript to other airport employees, whom are not named.
Freking said Spaw reported the call to her boss, McGraw.
From there, Freking said, McGraw turned it over to Audit Committee Chairman Frank Kling, who resigned from the board on Sunday. 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 review. He has 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.”
Per Kentucky's Freedom of Information Act, WCPO has filed open records requests with the airport for board-related travel expenses, all audit reports, as well as the recordings and transcripts detailed in the lawsuit.