Foothills Regional Airport Authority elects chairman, appoints manager

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Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 6:35 pm

LENOIR – Interim airport manager Brent Brinkley at Foothills Regional Airport will be dropping the “interim” from his title.

In the midst of the ongoing FBI probe into the airport’s operations, the airport authority voted Wednesday to appoint Brinkley airport manager after serving as interim manager for nearly six months.

Brinkley was appointed interim manager of the airport back in August of 2012, replacing former manager Alex Nelson.

Nelson, alongside former airport operations manager Brad Adkins, pleaded guilty to public corruption conspiracy and embezzlement last September following the FBI raid on Foothills Regional in June.

Although neither has been sentenced, federal prosecutors say it is just a matter of time.

Danny Gilbert, who was taken on as the authority’s chief financial officer in the months following the raid, said Wednesday that Brinkley’s appointment was a tribute to the quality of work Brinkley has overseen since taking on his interim position.

“I really think that this solidifies the job that he’s doing and the changes that are being made at the airport to maintain (the airport’s) stability,” Gilbert said from his office in Lenoir on Wednesday afternoon.

In the past six months alone, Gilbert went on, Brinkley has worked alongside airport officials and government employees to bring balance back to the airport and increase transparency in all its operations.

“A lot of changes have been made just in financial handling, money and the procedures of all the financials,” Gilbert said. “Basically there’s been an overhaul of all the reports and how that’s being recorded.”

Wednesday’s meeting also saw Bruce Roberts appointed as the new authority chairman.

Roberts, one of two representatives from Caldwell County on the board, will replace Wayne Abele as chairman of the authority. Each chairman of the board holds the seat for two years before a new chairman is elected.

Abele is the last in a long line of chairmen representing Burke County, but authority attorney Louis Vinay said Wednesday that he didn’t feel the chairman’s home county had any effect on Wednesday’s appointment.

“They try to move it around, but there’s no plan or policy that they have,” Vinay explained. “Burke County members have held the chair for several years, but I don’t personally think that motivated this.”

According to Vinay the most significant business as Wednesday’s meeting was the contract agreement for the airport’s 2011 financial audit.

The long-overdue audit will be overseen by the firm of Lowdermilk Church & Co. LLP out of Morganton.

The 2011 audit was supposed to be completed last year, but after the FBI raid in June the original firm backed out of their contract.

“Allegedly, the previous auditor stated that he didn’t feel able or comfortable to complete the audit given all the accusations of fraud and all the FBI investigations,” Vinay explained. “The local government commission, which oversees the financial status of all public agencies, basically told them and the authority that, ‘You need to work this out, you need to get a new auditor.’ So, that’s what we did.”

Vinay added that although Lowdermilk Church & Co. is only contracted to complete the 2011 audit, the authority hopes to see the firm oversee the 2012 audit, as well.

Wednesday’s meeting would have been the first meeting for Dennis Pearson, the newly elected representative to the board from Burke County.

Pearson replaced Randy Hullette on the board after Hullette was expelled in the months following the FBI’s summertime raid.

According to the airport authority, Hullette hadn’t been present at any of the authority’s meetings since June 6, the day after the FBI raided the airport, taking computers, logs and records – as well as any documents related to Hullette and the businesses he was associated with.

“The policy is three meetings and you’re out,” Abele said at the time.

Hullette also was among multiple individuals and businesses listed in an attachment to the FBI’s search and seizure warrant served to the airport. His businesses – Hullette Aviation, Burkemont Service Center and RANMAC, Inc. – were also listed.

Pearson, a CPA out of Connelly Springs, was officially appointed to the board at the Jan. 15 Burke County Board of Commissioners meeting.

He was not able to attend Wednesday’s meeting due to a prior commitment.

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