AMES (AP) — Iowa State University President Steven Leath received personal flight lessons from a former Republican lawmaker who was appointed around the same time into a high-paying university job without a search, Leath acknowledged Friday.
Leath told the Iowa State Daily student newspaper now-university vice president and Waterloo native Jim Kurtenbach helped him train in late 2014 to obtain a private pilot certificate that allowed Leath to fly the university's single-engine plane by himself.
In November of that year, the school scrapped a planned national search and announced Kurtenbach, a former ISU associate dean, would return as interim vice president and chief information officer.
The acknowledgment adds another layer to the scandal surrounding Leath's use of university planes for a mix of official duties and personal business.
Seven months after obtaining an instrument rating to fly the school's Cirrus SR22 plane, Leath damaged the plane in a rough landing while returning from a vacation in North Carolina in July 2015. Leath has blamed windy conditions, but the FAA required him to undergo a reexamination of his flight skills. Leath passed and kept his certification.
Leath vowed last month to stop flying the plane, which was purchased with private donations for $498,000 in 2014, after The Associated Press revealed the accident. He also donated $15,000 to the university's foundation to cover the damage and related costs.
On Wednesday, Leath said he regretted mixing personal and business trips on both university planes and would be more careful in the future.
Kurtenbach offered to help Leath complete his flight training in fall 2014, after ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert had started talks to recruit Kurbenbach for the CIO opening, Leath said. Leath said the CIO position didn't report to him at the time and he wasn't involved in hiring Kurtenbach, who was working for an Ames-based company.
Leath said the timing worked well because the two were able to train to during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks before Kurtenbach started his job Jan. 1, 2015. Leath said he took his final lesson from Kurtenbach days later and was granted his certification by the Federal Aviation Administration that month.
Leath moved Kurtenbach into the position permanently July 1 of this year — at a salary of $252,794. The Iowa Board of Regents approved the appointment of Kurtenbach, who now reports to Leath after an administrative restructuring.
Kurtenbach, a 1975 graduate of Columbus High School in Waterloo, had worked at Iowa State as an accounting professor since 1991, and served as associate engineering dean from 2010 until 2013.
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