The FBI is investigating the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport Authority Board for its handling of sensitive security information in the chaos immediately after the board fired Manager Stephanie Morgan last month.
Board member Gary Peters told the board at its Wednesday meeting that he may have unwittingly violated Transportation Security Administration regulations when he directed a third-party computer vendor to copy hard drives and thumb drives from the airport administrative offices. Peters explained that he was concerned for the security of the information on the drives after the board fired Morgan, and he didn’t know the status of assistant manager Robin Turner.
Peters said the board needed access to the data to begin the process of figuring out the state of airport operations, and what Morgan and Turner had been doing over the past several months. Interim airport Manager Chris Clemens said TSA officials became concerned when they learned that certain privileged security information on the drives had been propagated.
“They are not amused,” said Clemens, a board member who is taking a leave of absence to serve as interim manager while the airport board launches a search for a new manager.
Clemens said the FBI contacted him Tuesday night about the investigation. Peters said the original drives have never been out of the possession of the computer vendor, which keeps them in a bank safe deposit box. He said he was carrying the copies with him at the meeting Wednesday night.
Peters added that he is not a security expert and didn’t know the protocol involved with securing the information. He said he would accept all responsibility for the incident and any repercussions. Clemens said board members are not legally entitled to view the security information.
Information on the drives not related to airport security, like emails, was helpful for the board when it was making some recent decisions, Peters said. They also revealed what Morgan and Turner had been working on over the past year after Horizon Airlines left town, taking Lewiston’s only direct flights to Boise and Seattle with it.
“Nothing,” Peters said of their progress on attracting a new carrier and other problems at the airport. “This place was on cruise control, and that didn’t work. We’re all paying the price for this thing being driven off a cliff and horribly mismanaged.”
He did ask the 20 or so airport patrons and tenants at the meeting to cut the board “a little bit of slack” as it tries to wrap its arms around the “mess” left by Morgan.
In other business:
The board gave its consent to have Clemens continue to draft a plan for paid parking at the airport. A modest daily fee of $3 to $5 could generate around $100,000 for the revenue-starved airport, an amount Clemens said could help pay for federally required firefighting protections.
Without the revenue, the airport will have to ask the city of Lewiston and Nez Perce County for the funds since it only has $7,500 in the budget for that expense. The airport is nearing completion of a new administrative building that will also house firefighting operations.
Clemens discussed his progress toward updating the airport layout plan, a binding document required by the Federal Aviation Administration that guides airport development. Airport staff have been scrambling to complete the document ahead of the FAA’s January inspection, he said, adding he believes the airport will pass the inspection.
Clemens accused an unnamed “shadow” group of trying to execute a “subversive plot” to get rid of him and fill his vacant board position with someone else. He said people are spreading information on social media suggesting his leave of absence to manage the airport is not valid, and volunteered to do the manager’s job without pay so he can eventually return to the board.
He didn’t specifically name Nez Perce County Commissioner Douglas Havens as part of the group, but Havens did express concern with the leave of absence during the meeting’s open comment period.
“There’s all kinds of conflicts that could erupt from this,” Havens said.
Havens denied having anything to do with an effort to get rid of Clemens, who added that he has asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on whether his leave is valid.
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