The potential dismissal of a civil case between the former Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Stephen Snyder versus the Greenbrier County Commission and Airport Authority will be considered near the end of this month.
According to the complaint, in 2015 Snyder began investigating a “former GCAA manager and former chief financial officer,” allegedly “improperly abused their positions and misused GCAA funding and property to their own financial gain” and “numerous instances of potential waste, fraud, and wrongdoing involving” a Greenbrier County Commission member. The initial complaint filed in May lays out three counts Snyder seeks to have heard by a jury.
Count one is a “whistle-blower claim” stating he was fired due to “repeated, good faith reports to [the commission and Airport Authority] of instances of wrongdoing and waste.” Later dismissal filings by the plaintiff and defense call any claim to whistle-blower protections into question due a time restriction needed to make the claim, a restriction that was changed by the Legislature in 2020. Count two is a Harless claim stating the terminations was done in retaliation for these reports. Count three is “the intentional infliction of emotional distress,” stating that the “termination was intended by design by the defendants to be extremely embarrassing and as a form of punishment and retaliation.”
On June 23, the commission filed a response to the complaint, both denying many of Snyder’s allegations and stating Snyder “fails to state a claim against this defendant upon which relief may be granted.” The response also states Snyder “is without sufficient information or knowledge to form a belief as to the truth of the statements and allegations.”
Although the lawsuit does not specify the county commissioner, Snyder has previously called attention to similar allegations against Commission President Lowell Rose.
“He’s made these allegations for the last two or three years, ever since he’s been turned loose from the airport,” Rose told The West Virginia Daily News. “There’s nothing to them. They’ve been investigated like 40 times by state police, IRS, everybody, and everybody has thrown it out. … It’s all against the airport authority, but it’s things that happened 10, 15, 20 years ago. It’s just a vendetta-type thing in my book.”
The suit references multiple criminal investigations into the airport. A case was opened by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) before June 2016, after receiving Snyder’s report. However, Tessa Cooper, a victim specialist with the FBI, confirmed their role in the investigation was over in a letter provided to the Mountain Messenger, addressed to Snyder and dated September 1, 2017.
According to the complaint, a case was opened with the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office Public Integrity and Fraud Unit Investigator. The lawsuit explains that “prior to [Snyder’s] meeting to turn over custody all evidence to the WVSAO Public Integrity and Fraud Unit Investigator, [Snyder] was terminated by a three to two vote of the GCAA Board with no reason given by the board except that he was an ‘at-will’ employee.”
On the county level, both sides of the lawsuit have referenced an alleged investigation with a special prosecutor in Fayette County. For example, Commissioner Mike McClung stated he was delivering evidence to a special prosecutor when he took “hard drive, two file folders, and a CD” from the airport, the incident that led to the criminal charges filed against him in January 2020. The suit states “later it was learned [by Snyder] that the state trooper appointed to assist the Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney to investigate the defendants possibly had a social relationship with the County Commissioners as it was rumored he was planning to marry into his family.”
“My daughter has been dating a state trooper who was told to investigate,” Rose told The West Virginia Daily News. “[He was] a second trooper, second or third one, and he … told the state police that he was … dating my daughter, and they’re not married. They’re not engaged or anything, but they’re still dating. … They told him that it was not a conflict to go on. That question was asked and answered [by] the state police, and they told him he could investigate it. There’s nothing there.”
Prior to Snyder’s termination, Greenbrier County representatives were divided over a policy affecting the Greenbrier Valley Airport and the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCCVB), an organization dedicated to attracting tourists to the area. Rose and Commissioner Tammy Shifflett-Tincher opposed the creation of a new CVB, saying the GCCVB could be used as a pass through in order to expand flights. Snyder and McClung felt the funds, if left with the GCCVB, could be reallocated to things other than air service if not under the direct control of the airport staff or authority.
In order to have the needed votes to remove him, the complaint notes, the commission needed to remove McClung from the Authority and remove Lowell Johnson from his position as chair of the authority. On March 28, 2019, McClung was removed from the Airport Authority and replaced by Tincher, with Rose saying Johnson, McClung, and Snyder “tried to push through a CVB for the airport, which I’d asked them to drop many times, and they refused until it was finally brought to the floor and voted down. They continually do things that Commissioner Tincher and I don’t approve of, and have voiced our opinion about, but it falls on deaf ears. … We have had concerns with some of the things that have [gone] on with the airport. I would not in any way say that Mr. Snyder hasn’t done a good job with the maintenance of the airport and several aspects of the airport. He has.”
On June 18, 2019, the Greenbrier County Airport Authority voted three to two to remove Snyder effective immediately. Boardmembers Deborah Phillips, Greg Furlong, and Tincher voted in favor, while Lowell Johnson and Mike Rose voted against. Speaking in public comment after his removal, Snyder cited multiple issues that he believes led to his removal, including frequent accusations of overspending, and noted his best intentions in running the airport for the benefit of the community. A month later, Snyder told the comment “you terminated an airport manager with no notice, with thousands of documents in a computer and nobody knows where they are. No one knows how to take custody of them.”
After another round of legal arguments were filed, a motions hearing in the case was set for late January.
This article has been shortened for length in the print edition. Visit wvdn.com for the expanded version with additional details, history, and broader look at the criminal investigations.