HEBRON, Ky. – The chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board, and his wife, are suing an airport employee alleging she violated federal wiretap laws by recording a call he inadvertently made with his cell phone, according to federal court records filed Tuesday.
Board Chair Jim Huff and wife Bertha Huff allege Carol Spaw recorded a 91-minute call he mistakenly made with his cell phone to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport's administrative offices while on a board-related trip to Italy on October 24.
Spaw, an employee of CVG for 18 years, is the administrative assistant of CEO Candace McGraw, who has recently been under fire by the airport board, which oversees the airport.
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 a fellow board member.
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.
"They called her and she wasn't sure what to do...she overheard two board members' plans to try and oust Mrs. McGraw," said Freking.
During the conversation, Huff and Larry Savage, the vice chairman of the airport board, talked about demoting McGraw and replacing her with Savage as CEO.
“[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.
In a statement released by his lawyer, Huff said: "Most disturbing is the fact that my private conversations with my wife in our hotel bedroom were also listened to and recorded by airport staff. My wife and I have filed suit to protect our rights."
"...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 eavsedropped on or recorded the prior phone call.
Huff said in the statement that he is calling for an independent investigation of the allegations: "We need to determine exactly what happened and who was involved."
Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus said he only found out about the lawsuit Tuesday night, but had an inkling that something was brewing.
"I heard bits and pieces recently but I didn't inquire on further details," said Arlinghaus, who appoints all seven voting members of the board's executive committee, including Huff and Savage.
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, Huff admitted in August, discussed better communication between McGraw and the board, but that no votes were cast and no action was taken during the closed-door meeting.
“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. Another hit to those efforts could be the board's spending habits.
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.
The board will meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. It was unclear Tuesday evening if that meeting is directly tied to the lawsuit or the ongoing rift between McGraw and some members of the board. McGraw declined to comment.