Lafayette Regional's Roberts ousted after 'joke' turns sour

by Patrick Flanagan

The Lafayette Regional Airport Commission finally got the ammunition it needed last week to force the resignation of longtime Aviation Director Greg Roberts.

The Lafayette Regional Airport Commission finally got the ammunition it needed last week to force the resignation (he's calling it a retirement) of longtime Aviation Director Greg Roberts.

Photo By Robin May

Former Lafayette Regional Aviation Director Greg Roberts

According to a report this morning from The Daily Advertiser, Roberts submitted his resignation Sunday following an incident at the airport last week.

"The reason for it happening the way it did involved an incident that occurred at the airport last Wednesday which is still being investigated," Airport Commission Chairman Matt Cruse tells The Advertiser. "Greg stepped up immediately and apologized ... realized the severity and consequences for his actions and realized the best move for the airport was for him to step aside."

Cruse didn't elaborate on the circumstances surrounding last week's incident. A voice message left with him Monday morning was not immediately returned.

A 2 p.m. press conference has been scheduled for today at the terminal. Cruse is expected to discuss the reasons for Roberts' departure at the press conference.

One source - who wished to remain anonymous - filled us in on the details that ultimately led to the end of Roberts' 21 years as aviation director.

According to the source, the incident happened during a meeting last week with several engineers. Frustrated with the way the discussion was going, Roberts pulled out a mock pistol - used by the federal Transportation Security Administration as a training device - and jokingly aimed it at one of the engineers saying he knew how to change the man's mind.

"It was a joke that went bad," says our source, adding the device is not a functional firearm and has no working trigger or barrel.

Another source tells The IND those in the meeting with Roberts had no idea the device was not a real gun; at no time did Roberts tell them it was fake.

Commissioners learned of the incident Friday and responded by placing Roberts on administrative leave. On Sunday, Roberts submitted a one-sentence letter to Cruse announcing his retirement.

While last week's incident likely tops the list of Roberts' indiscretions as aviation director, he is by no means a stranger to controversy. Roberts has long been on thin ice with his board.

In fact, Roberts' embattled career almost came to an end seven years ago over questionable spending practices, open meetings law violations, a controversial attempt to award a contract to an out-of-state company and for what some called his "military attitude," a reference to Roberts' service in the Air Force.

"I can deal with him, but it's the way he handles himself in the public eye," said airport commissioner Carroll Robicheaux during a May 2007 interview with The IND.

Another of Roberts' critics at the time was former commissioner Brenda Burley.

"I want him out, but I've wanted him out for years," said Burley during our 2007 interview. According to Burley, the primary reason she wanted Roberts terminated centered on his treatment of staff and others who do business with the airport.

Roberts nearly lost his job, but an about-face by one of the commission's former members, Don Higginbotham, helped him unexpectedly hang on. Higginbotham, who originally was among those calling for the director's resignation, suddenly changed his stance, proposed a resolution to extend Roberts' contract by six months, and then resigned from the board, saying the mounting controversy was having an adverse impact on his business.

Roberts received his contract extension, and was able to hang on for another seven years.

After the contract was extended seven years ago, commissioner Robichaux said Roberts had been making some progress, but he warned: "His demeanor has changed a lot. He's not as boisterous. But I want to see how long it's going to last. I want to see how his actions and demeanor progress after the contract is signed, sealed and delivered."