News and Tribune

November 28, 2012

New Clark County air board ratifies malpractice suit

Halter, Vissing resign from air board roles

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Board of Aviation Commissioners voted to authorize the county attorney to pursue a legal malpractice suit against the now-former air board attorney at a special meeting at the Clark County Government Building on Wednesday.

On a 3-0 vote with air board member Bill Halter abstaining, the board voted to pass a resolution that ratified County Attorney Greg Fifer and attorney Steve Voelker to maintain a legal malpractice suit against Jack Vissing for his handling of an eminent-domain lawsuit for which the county now owes in excess of $870,000 to the estate of Margaret Dreyer, from whom the air board purchased land for a runway expansion at Clark County Regional Airport.

Halter, who has served on the board for 16 years, tendered his resignation after abstaining from the vote.

“Now with the present political climate, I feel it would be more difficult to continue to vote my conscience,” Halter said. “I wish only the best for the Clark County [Regional] Airport and the new air board. Hopefully we can keep personalities and politics out of the operation of the airport and the air board.”

After the board — which now consists of former Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan, commercial Realtor Jim Baker, Dan Gregory and Clay “Beanie” Smith — voted to pass the resolution, Vissing also tendered his resignation from his position as the board’s attorney via a letter delivered to the board by Coy Travis, a representative of Weber & Rose, a law firm retained by Vissing.

In the letter, attorney James Gary with Weber & Rose wrote that Fifer did not have the authorization of the board to file his suit against Vissing.

“[Vissing] strongly opposes the unauthorized suit filed against him,” Gary wrote. “It is clear that this board did not authorize the filing of this suit. Likewise, it is clear that this board never retained nor hired Mr. Fifer or Mr. Voelker to represent the board relative to any of the claimed issues alleged in the complaint filed against Mr. Vissing.”

Vissing would have no alternative but to resign if the suit was authorized by the board, Gary wrote.

The resolution passed by the air board also authorized the filing of a pleading within the appeal of the eminent-domain suit filed by Fifer against the $870,000 judgment in favor of Dreyer.

“I think that strengthens our hand,” Fifer said.

County Auditor R. Monty Snelling should receive a commitment letter from a local bank for a loan that would satisfy the judgment, Fifer said, and Fifer plans to petition the appeals court to allow the money to be paid into escrow pending his appeal of the judgment. If Clark County failed to pay the judgment, Dreyer attorney John Mead has stated that his clients would invoke their right to force the air board to forfeit the property.

Galligan, Baker and Smith — who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting — replaced former members Ron Barnes, Mike Vissing and Alan Conner, who were removed from the board by the Clark County commissioners after they failed to ratify the legal malpractice suit against Jack Vissing.

“This needs to get put behind us and we need to move on,” Galligan said. “I guess in aeronautical terms, we need to go wheels-up and move forward.”

Gregory said his decision to vote to ratify the legal-malpractice suit was nothing personal against Jack Vissing.

“We’ve worked with him for a long time, and I think he’s done a good job for the air board,” Gregory said. “Mr. Fifer feels like he must take this measure to protect the taxpayers. ... This has been so highly publicized, I think if the board doesn’t allow him to go through with this, I think folks are going to look at us like we’re ... just protecting one of our own. I don’t think the board needs that.”

The board also voted unanimously to extend an invitation to attorney David Nachand to represent it in the interim. Nachand currently serves as the attorney for several boards in county and Jeffersonville municipal government.

With the resignation of Halter, the commissioners will have to appoint another member to the air board.

“I don’t sense that the current board of commissioners has any desire to micromanage this board for the period of time they’ve got left,” Fifer said. “If they did, I don’t think they would have appointed Mayor Galligan, because I don’t think he’s micromanageable. And in my comments with the newly elected commissioners, I think they feel the same way.”