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Since the Arkansas Times first reported Nov. 12 on expenditures at the airport, including a $40,000 check to a private school for a football field, Little Rock National Airport executive director Ron Mathieu has reimbursed his employer $3,001.13 for charges made during 2010.
They include a $366.88 tab at Arthur's Prime Steakhouse with airport commissioner Jesse Mason and several other meals; country club dues, tuxedo rental and gas.
In light of the scrutiny of the spending at the airport, Mason and fellow commissioners Virgil Miller and Tom Schueck have decided not to attend the Airport Issues Conference in Kona, Hawaii, in January. "Going to Hawaii in January just doesn't look good to people," Schueck said Monday. He said he dropped out after seeing e-mails that indicated Miller and Mason would not attend. Airport spokesman T.J. Williams said Monday the airport was reimbursed $8,021.73 for the plane tickets, about $50 shy of the cost of the three fares.
Mathieu said he reimbursed the airport for some of his expenses after meeting Nov. 19 with Schueck, who was asked at the Commission's November meeting to look into airport expenditures and policy by Commission Chairman Bob East. Mathieu said he and Schueck discussed upcoming policy changes, including one requiring employees to pay for their spouses' meals, and Schueck asked Mathieu to look at his 2010 expenses with "new eyes." Other reimbursements have been made by assistant director Bryan Malinowski, manager Elwin Jones and planning department contract administrator Julieta Carrasco-Meza.
Though Schueck asked Mathieu and staff to reexamine their charges for 2010, the airport's heavy pattern of spending — employees put $272,000 on Visa and American Express cards in the past year — goes back much farther.
In August, Mathieu and his wife, Yasmine, took commissioner Jesse Mason and his wife, Dr. Gail Reede Jones, to dinner at Arthur's Prime Steakhouse to celebrate Mason's birthday. The four dined on calamari, lump crab cocktail, filet mignons and two kinds of wine, on the airport's tab. The airport has said previously alcohol purchases are allowed by policy only with business prospects.
Mason said he did not know the airport had paid for the meal and would not have approved it had he known. He said he believed it was only appropriate for the airport to pick up the tab for employees and commissioners "if we were on a trip, at a conference."
Mathieu, who earlier told a reporter for the Times that the airport had not paid for a country club membership, also reimbursed the airport $523 for dues for September and October at Chenal Country Club, in West Little Rock, near Mathieu's home. Mathieu said that he'd used the club previously for staff retreats and had paid for it; after talking to a couple of commissioners, he said he got a "social membership" in anticipation of needing the club for meetings when airport construction, which begins next year, tears out the administrative offices. Mathieu said the club membership was never used. He said Schueck instructed employees to repay anything that anyone could perceive as "problematic," so he terminated the membership. "Now I have to find a new place for us to hold meetings," Mathieu said.
Mathieu also reimbursed the airport $694 for an Oct. 23 meal at Ruth's Chris steakhouse in Rogers. Mathieu said he'd inadvertently used his airport card, rather than his personal card, to pay for dinner for "six or eight people," he said. He didn't explain why he didn't reimburse it until after the Times investigation began.
Both Mathieu and Malinowski reimbursed portions of some $400 worth of meals at Arthur's Steakhouse Oct. 14 with a consultant. Their wives attended. Mathieu reimbursed the airport $71.86 and Malinowski $87.86 for their wives' portions.
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