Editor’s note: The #Planegate timeline below was last updated Nov. 15, adding newly revealed details about a hard landing incident Leath was involved in while flying a private plane 11 months before the scandal-sparking incident in the summer of 2015.
Last week’s meeting of the Ames City Council received an unusual bit of statewide notice because of decisions made about plans to upgrade the city’s municipal airport that have been nearly a decade in the works. The meeting — at which a $1.97 million contract was awarded for the construction of a new terminal building, a new fixed-base operator was selected to manage the airport once the building is completed, and a funding agreement with Iowa State University was slightly renegotiated — coincided with the ongoing scandal over ISU President Steven Leath’s personal use of university-owned airplanes in possible violation of university policy or even state law that came to light late last month when Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley revealed that Leath damaged one of the planes in July 2015 during a hard landing on the way home from an 11-day vacation to North Carolina.
As that news — and the university’s dubious explanations of what exactly transpired — continues to develop amid renewed questions of the cronyism and faded lines between the personal and professional of GOP powerbroker Bruce Rastetter’s Board of Regents, some in Ames continue to question the rising costs of a project funded in part by taxpayer dollars that may only benefit a relative few movers and shakers. Others contend that modernizing the city’s aging airport is long overdue and, once completed, will serve as a gateway to the community and as a driver of economic development given its close proximity to the university-affiliated ISU Research Park.