Greetings from Singapore | Arkansas Blog

Friday, January 14, 2011

Greetings from Singapore

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Max here, in Singapore, where a check of my email finds a note from Mayor Mark Stodola in response to my post on the city board's celebration of the fine job of the Airport Commission the other night in the confirmation of Stodola's reappointment of Bob East and Tom Schueck to five more years on the body.

One of my complaints was Stodola's refusal to say in advance who he planned to appoint to the commission — or any other city commission. He explains:

The reason is that the Board has to agree to them and on several occasions they have not done so.

Not a good defense. I think the public ought to have the opportunity to comment on Stodola appointments before they are ratified, too. He elaborated on the airport appointments:

In weighing the issue of reappointment I felt it was appropriate to consider the fact that a volunteer policy-making board alerted to one of the main issues, made inquiry as to substantial increases in an advertising budget and didn’t get a straight answer. Thanks to the Times investigatory research, this issue as well as others, were ferreted out. I believe the Commission will be meting out further disciplinary action.

He didn't note that the advertising issue, though sniffed by board member Schueck, was dropped and forgotten after the airport director answered dishonestly. He also omits that the origninal response from at least one commissioner was defense of airport director Ron Mathieu. And it also omits that Mathieu and his $96,000-a-year press agent initially accused the Arkansas Times of dishonesty in its reporting, after first trying to stonewall the issue. The commission got involved eventually — and I think only — because the bare facts of sending $40,000 in airport money to a private school favored by Mathieu were so outrageous and public reaction and other media coverage were so intense. Then there were other excesses dug up by Leslie Peacock's reporting. I ask our readers: If you charged a $700 dinner on your employer's credit card and, a couple of months later when the investigative heat was on, said you inadvertently failed to put the charge on your personal card, would you stil be employed?

I note that Democrat-Gazette followup coverage Wednesday quoted the mayor as saying how lucky we were to have such fine folks serve us. East and Schueck are indeed successful business executives and they've taken some useful steps to react to airport spending abuses. But the exact problem at the airport — and many other arms of government at every level — is that too many people think they are doing the public a favor by their service and that liberties are justified as a result. At the airport, the liberties ranged from expensive birthday steak dinners, to limos over taxi cabs, to first-class air tickets at public expense. Plenty of other people are willing and able to serve. I don't think the pool of qualified people is so small that reappointment should be automatic. Fresh voices are useful and they discourage the clubby atmosphere in which abuses so easily occur.

The latest airport line of defense is the increasing profit margin at the airport. Indeed, the "profit" is millions more in the face of a sharp decline in passenger boardings than it was several years ago. If you think air passengers aren't paying this "profit" margin in Little Rock through their air tickets, I have a bridge to sell you.

PS — Pretty funny that Mayor Stodola defended a second term for airport commissioners at the same time he was saying that Director Ken Richardson's one term as ex officio member of the politically and financially potent Advertising and Promotion Commission was enough. Stodola told the Democrat Gazette: "Ken has been on it for four years. It’s a new term and ... giving someone else a hand at it, I don’t think, is out of the ordinary." Except at the Airport Commission. But Richardson has been critical of the mayor. Not so at the airport. Mathieu wined and dined Stodola in Paris on the public's credit card.

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