Airport's 11th-hour response lacking UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Friday, November 12, 2010

Airport's 11th-hour response lacking UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 5:56 PM

Leslie Peacock had to leave this afternoon for a funeral. I left the office before T.J. Williams of the Little Rock National Airport sent a notice at 5:07 p.m. that Airport Director Ron Mathieu would respond to our story today at 5:30 p.m.

Typical. She was aware Leslie would no longer be able to ask questions. She was aware from my blog post that I was no longer in the office.

Tiajuana had refused to respond to multiple requests for information over the span of several days. She cited non-existent "timeline" provisions in the FOI law to avoid answering our questions, which remain unanswered. It's clear they wanted to get their version of their story out before we could run ours, which is precisely why — after ample efforts to get response — we ran it this afternoon without their response, except in those talking points provided to Commissioner Kay Arnold, which we quoted in Leslie's original story.

I have requested a statement from Mathieu . It remains to be seen if Willliams will avoid this request for that as she's refused to answer all other legitimate inquiries.

I'm at 663-6758 TJ. Give me a ring.

There's at least one more installment of this story coming. I expect a similar response for that one. Somebody in city government should be ashamed.

The story isn't going away. It will blow on the ashes of the story about the airport bypassing several major local contractors for a big new construction job in favor of an outside firm partnered with a local minority contractor and then-Planning Conmmissioner, Marcus Devine, without required city board approval. It will raise again the question of whether more commissioners translated into more or less oversight. It might cause some to remember the background of one of the people Mathieu brought to Little Rock to help manage the airport and one of the two people who wield the Amex platinum cards that have run up so many expenses for the airport in recent months, including to take commissioners on travels and pay for Parisian meals for the mayor.

How arrogant is the airport's marketing manager, Ms. Williams? She apparently thinks — erroneously — that she has a three-day exemption from the FOI to tell us what her salary is and that of her bosses. She's the airport media manager, but she's referring all questions — apparently including her own salary — to a lawyer who is charging the city significant sums to answer questions Williams can, and should, answer for free. She is willfully ignoring the FOI law. It won't stand.

UPDATE: Here's Mathieu's statement, sent at 7:42 p.m. after days of stonewalling. He did exactly what we described, yet he describes our articles as "innuendo and untruths." He enumerates no errors. You decide. He says it was a "clean business transition [sic]."

UPDATE II: The Democrat-Gazette followed the story Saturday morning with about as kind a presentation of Mathieu's case as could possibly be made, but still wanting. Point: It might not be clear from the phrasing that the $40,000 payment was not "spread" over the life of the turf, but paid upfront. The D-G helpfully noted that the LR Advertising and Promotion Commission took a PUBLIC vote on an expenditure of HALF the amount for a similar ad on a much larger PUBLIC school's football field (Central), which isn't the school attended by any children of the executive director of the agency. Mathieu's claim that the deal is clean because another employee approved and/or signed the contract on the deal he brought to his subordinates hardly clears the air. Who's going to tell the boss something stinks? More ludicrous still is his claim that it would be "un-American" (as he told Channel 4 Friday night) and discriminatory (as he told the D-G) if he could NOT give the public's business to an enterprise with which he has a personal connection. Imagine what an Arkansas legislator could do with that line of reasoning?

ALSO: I've been having trouble with the Google link to Mathieu's statement. The text follows:

I am saddened by the decision of Max Brantley and the Arkansas Time to print a story of innuendo and untruths. And I’m disappointed that the Times decided to put the story online while we were here at their request compiling information for use in their story.

Here are the facts:

In January I was contacted and offered an opportunity to advertise on the new field that LRCA was planning to install. I thought it an interesting opportunity given the fact that the Commission has asked me to be different creative and more effective with our advertising dollars.

I initially decided to go forward with the advertisement as the expenditure was within budget and my authority. I subsequently decided that since my son went to the school, one could say that there is a perception of impropriety. Therefore, I asked my staff to review the opportunity, negotiate the deal, make the final decision and I removed myself from the process completely. It is important to note that the Little Rock Christian Academy board, like airport counsel, have reviewed this matter and both consider it to be a clean business transition.

I am releasing to you today a copy of the contract for the advertising.

Some of the questions I have been asked are:
• Have you benefited in any way from this transaction? The answer is no I have not. I pay the full tuition and associated fees for my son (who is not on the football ball team).

• Is it true that you refused to answer any questions regarding this matter? No. After nine days of FOIA request and countless staff hours spent producing hundreds of pages of documents, I felt it prudent to be completely transparent and I ask that all questions be submitted in writing so that I can respond to any and all questions in writing in order for there to be no question about what was asked and what was answered.

This was my attempt to avoid the exact situation we are in today. The actions of that publication justify my concerns.

• Did I violate airport policy in any way? No. There are no violation of policies and procedures, no violations of the purchasing resolution.

I respect the media and the role they play, but when one outlet disagrees with an expenditure, it does not make that expenditure illegal, immoral, unethical or a scandal at the airport. We can disagree on how best to market, manage and grow the airport without resorting to this type of tactic.

I expect the Commission will discuss this matter at next week’s Commission meeting. I’ll be happy to take your questions.

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