Dick Haws, Special to the Des Moines Register
The Iowa Board of Regents, sometime during its meeting this Wednesday and Thursday, is expected to discuss with Iowa State University President Steven Leath his use of the two airplanes owned by ISU, a twin-engine, eight-seat King Air 350 and a single-engine, four-seat Cirrus SR22. Regent Subhash Sahai has said Leath has assured him he "will come clean" regarding the two airplanes.
Here are some of the questions I hope are answered:
Leath has said the Cirrus SR22 was purchased for $470,000, less a $28,000 trade-in, in July 2014, from a "discretionary account" he controls. He has said the account, made possible by contributions from ISU donors, is free to be used by the president as he sees fit to benefit ISU. How much money is in that account and what purchases, besides the airplane, have been made by Leath from it? Do the presidents at Iowa's other regents universities have such discretionary accounts? If so, how large are they and what purchases have they made from them? Is Leath's purchase of an airplane from this account in accord with Regent expectations?
Iowa State employs three pilots — one is paid $75,000 a year, one $80,000 a year, one $102,000 a year — and all are licensed to fly the Cirrus SR22. Leath also is licensed to fly the Cirrus SR22. How many times have any of ISU's three pilots flown the Cirrus SR22 since it was purchased by Leath in 2014? If their answer is, "Hardly at all," does this mean that the Cirrus SR22 is, in effect, Leath's personal airplane?
Leath has said, after the "hard" landing he had in the Cirrus SR22 at the Bloomington, Ill., airport in July 2015, that he immediately notified the Bloomington control tower, the ISU Flight Service, and, subsequently, the FAA and Iowa Regents President Bruce Rastetter. The accident did about $14,000 damage to the airplane. But it wasn't until more than a year later that the public learned of it, and only because of media reporting. No regents have come forward to say that Rastetter told any of them about the accident before it was reported in the media. Considering the current hue and cry about the accident, do Leath and Rastetter now believe it would have been wiser to have been forthcoming about the incident as soon as it happened?
Leath has said he and his wife, Janet, flew in the larger plane, the King Air 350, to New York City when the ISU men's basketball team was playing in the NCAA tournament in March 2014. Once in the air, the Iowa State pilot said he planned to stop at Elmira, N.Y., to refuel. It just so happened, Leath has said, that his brother and sister-in-law lived only 30 minutes from the Elmira airport. They quickly drove over to the Elmira airport and flew with the Leaths to New York City for the basketball game. On the return to Ames, the plane made another refueling stop at Elmira and dropped Leath's brother and sister-in-law off. Were the Leath relatives charged for the round-trip flight between Elmira and New York City? If so, how much was it? Have other Leath relatives, other than from from his immediate family, flown on an ISU plane? If so, have they been charged for it? And have Leath friends — those who wouldn't be considered potential donors, like professional archer John Dudley — flown with the president on ISU airplanes and, if so, have they been charged for the flights?
Leath has said he's been a licensed pilot for nearly 10 years. He says he had an earlier "hard" landing, this time when flying a private airplane. Is this frequency of "hard" landings — two in about 10 years — unusual for a pilot?
From my perspectives, answers to questions like these should help put the issue of the ISU airplanes in the background.
Dick Haws is a retired journalism professor at ISU.
Regent praises Leath: 'A ding on an airplane wing is not going to mess up the good work that's been done'