Fort Worth’s Aviation Director was fired last month amid allegations he was involved in a hit-and-run accident and the city manager later learned that he was hunting on airport property and owned an aviation company which he did not disclose as a potential conflict of interest, according to his termination letter obtained by NBC 5.
The director, William Welstead, was fired Sept. 9 and announced in a city press release two weeks later.
In the release, City Manager David Cooke said he initiated an audit and a criminal investigation into “additional allegations” uncovered in an internal review.
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At the time, Cooke did not reveal the specific allegations. But they are spelled out in Welstead’s termination letter, which NBC 5 requested under the Texas open records law. It includes findings of the city’s investigation.
As the longtime aviation director, Welstead earned more than $150,000 a year and held a top management role with the city, overseeing the three city-owned airports: Meacham International Airport, Alliance Airport, and Spinks Airport.
Welstead did not return a call and a text message left on his phone number listed on public documents.
HIT-AND-RUN IN CITY CAR
The termination letter, signed by Cooke and assistant city manager Fernando Costa, said Welstead was involved in a hit-and-run accident in a city vehicle on June 25.
“The citizen whose car you stuck (sic) filed a police report and stated that you were dismissive when called back to the scene,” the memo said.
Welstead, 42, did not report the accident to the city and directed city staffers to violate procedures by making unauthorized repairs – and used a city credit card to pay for it, the managers said.
There also was damage done separately to the car which was not disclosed “in accordance with the city’s normal process,” the letter said.
THE NMH GROUP
While investigating the hit and run, city managers said they learned Welstead was operating an “aerospace services and products” company called the NMH Group.
“You failed to disclose your secondary employment with this company as required by city policy in order to assess conflicts of interest with your position as aviation director,” the letter said.
Texas Secretary of State records reviewed by NBC 5 show Welstead formed NMH Group in 2013.
According to Tarrant County tax records, NMH bought some property the same year at 4800 North Main Street, directly across from Meacham Airport.
The property is an empty field along some railroad tracks.
A Google search shows NMH had a website listing the same address.
“Our experienced team of aviation staff include pilots, A&P technicians, airport managers and incident commanders,” the website said. “Trust NMH for your aviation supply needs.”
The website has since been taken down.
HUNTING ON AIRPORT PROPERTY
The termination memo also says Welstead was fired for hunting on city property.
“Additionally, the investigation revealed that you directed city staff to fence off a large section of airport property, installed a deer feeder, and purchased hunting equipment that you personally utilize for hunting wild game at the airport,” the memo said.
The managers said Welstead’s actions involved the “improper use of city resources and possibly city finances” for his own “personal self-interest.”
In the initial press release, the city manager said the criminal investigation by the police department and the internal audit could take “weeks.”
City council member Cary Moon, chair of the audit committee, said the city is taking the allegations seriously.
“For Fort Worth, any ethics violation is never tolerated,” Moon said. “It will be pursued to the highest regard.”
Moon added the city will review procedures to make sure lapses don’t happen again.
“Internally we may have failed as a city and we have some processes there that need to be corrected,” he said.
Costa, the assistant city manager, said in an interview that he met with employees of the aviation department Wednesday.
“They were forthcoming today,” he said. “How they didn’t come forward even though they sensed some things weren’t right.”
Costa, who worked with Welstead for years, said he feels personally let down.
“I would say feelings of shock and I don’t mind saying embarrassment that this could have happened under our watch,” Costa said.
Welstead’s termination letter notes he was suspended in 2017 after a human resources investigation determined he had retaliated against a city employee who made an unspecified complaint against him.
But Costa said city managers believed the issue was isolated and that Welstead otherwise did a good job.
“We trusted him,” he said. “He was a star performer.”