Written by: Sam Orlando
A Pattern of Indifference?
AUGUSTA COUNTY, VIRGINIA - Following an unsettling report by the Augusta Free Press, authored by Chris Graham on January 23, 2024, deeper scrutiny is being placed on the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) and its overseeing body, the Shenandoah Valley Airport Commission, particularly focusing on the role of its Chairman, Gerald Garber. Garber, who also serves on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, is now under the spotlight due to the alleged indifference towards a series of sexist and racist incidents at SHD, paralleling a separate scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment and cover-up within the Board of Supervisors.
The primary whistleblower, Travis Harlow, a former Waynesboro firefighter who joined SHD in 2018, has highlighted a disturbing culture of inappropriate behavior and neglect at the airport. Central to Harlow's grievances is an employee Facebook page, initially intended for work-related updates, which degenerated into a platform for sharing offensive and discriminatory content. Noteworthy amongst the reported incidents was the conduct of Chris Botkin, the business manager of fixed base operations at SHD, whose posts starkly reflect the egregious behavior tolerated within the airport's work environment.
Resistance and Reprisal, a Familiar Refrain
Harlow's attempts to rectify these issues internally met with resistance and seeming reprisal. His efforts to bring to light an alarming 2021 incident involving an intoxicated client employee's inappropriate behavior were reportedly dismissed, with the burden of action inconveniently placed back on him. Lisa Botkin, the executive director at SHD, addressed Harlow's complaint with a response that many might interpret as dismissive, stressing that the responsibility for further action rested with Harlow himself.
The situation takes on a more complex dimension with the involvement of Gerald Garber. As Chairman of the Shenandoah Valley Airport Commission and a member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Garber's leadership is now under scrutiny amidst allegations of a broader pattern of ignoring or inadequately addressing sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior. This concern is magnified by the ongoing scandal within the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, painting a troubling picture of systemic neglect.
Dejected and Ignored - A Questionable Culture at SHD
Harlow's subsequent filing of a grievance against Lisa Botkin and the administration's handling of his complaints, coupled with the perception of retaliatory actions against him, raises pressing questions about the culture of accountability and response to workplace misconduct under Garber's watch.
In light of these revelations, the community and stakeholders are calling for a thorough examination of the practices and leadership ethos at SHD and the entities associated with Gerald Garber. The implications of these allegations extend beyond individual incidents, suggesting a potential pattern of disregard for serious workplace issues that demand immediate and rigorous scrutiny.
Calls for Transparent Investigation
As the situation unfolds, the urgent need for transparent investigation and proactive measures is apparent, ensuring that workplace environments under Garber's leadership are safe, respectful, and responsive to the concerns of all employees.
Credit to Augusta Free Press and Chris Graham for their pivotal reporting, which has brought these critical issues to the forefront.