The Little Rock Airport Commission this morning adopted new rules on financial expenditures following exposes by the Arkansas Times of a number of questionable expenses, including a $40,000 contribution to Little Rock Christian Academy (nominally for a small ad) for a football field. Airport Director Ron Mathieu’s son attends the school. Mathieu has also reimbursed some $3,000 in questionable expenses, more than $1,000 for personal meal expenses unrelated to official business. In one case, he said he “inadvertently” charged a $700 personal dinner to his airport charge card. We’ve also disclosed that the airport buys thousands of dollars worth of shirts for employees each year, including customized dress shirts for Mathieu. And that Mathieu has spent lavishly on fund-raising social affairs of private nonprofits, a questionable expenditure of public funds under the Arkansas Constitution.
Leslie Peacock will report more later this morning, but we’ll get to the bottom line quickly: Nobody, Mathieu or commissioners, will pay for any past transgressions and the rules changes are mostly cosmetic.
It would appear the commission views this as the end of the road. The meeting opened with praise for Mathieu from a local organization of business aviators — the kind of business bigshots that have long controlled the airport. Mathieu was again apologetic and said he’d feared for a time he might loses his job. Apparently not any longer. Not for overspending. Not for being dishonest to the Airport Commission when it brought up the $40,000 putative ad expenditure. Airport Commissioners Tom Schueck, who performed the financial review (and said nothing Mathieu had done was prevented by regulation), and Chairman Robert East, both have applied for reappointment to the commission.
East recently reimbursed most of a $9,000 charter flight that he said was necessary for meetings with Arkansas congressmen so he could miss less time at work. He and Mathieu also engaged a $900 limo service for the meetings. East said this week of the limo expenditure, reported in the Times last week, that it was necessary because as many as five people used the limo. The bill for the limo expense, reported in the Times, listed only two passengers, Mathieu and East. East said former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater was among those participating in the meetings.
New rules will reduce Mathieu’s discretionary spending limit and require commission review for a range of expenses, from advertising to foreign travel. Mathieu has traveled abroad extensively, always in business class seats (though the policy allowing seat upgrades has not been changed).
It was the Little Rock Club at work and at its worst. Mathieu has done a wonderful job, all said, not counting misspending and lying. The commissioners, by extension, have done a fine job and deserve reappointment as much as Mathieu deserves high praise. Commissioners all yukked it up — in the manner of towel-popping, golf clubhouse hijinks — about the Hawaiian junket they customarily take, passed up this year for appearances’ sake.
Mathieu is going to get a personnel review, but what do you bet it will be accompanied by a pay raise come January?
Accountability? There is none in Little Rock city government, except for laborers. They get fired when money is tight. At the airport, they light their stogies with figurative 10-dollar bills courtesy of jacked-up parking and car rental rates and laugh at us chumps too stupid to understand the complexities of aviation — but who do know thievery when we see a $700 personal steak banquet charged to our checking account.
Please note: Glowing remarks today included some from Carl Finch, the aircraft charter rental operator who provided that $9,000 flight for Commissioner East and Mathieu.