The Little Rock Airport Commission today completed its annual review of airport Director Ron Mathieu. There was no discussion, but the group voted that he’d get no pay raise this year and he’ll get no bonus contribution to his retirement or deferred compensation package. A copy of his apology for spending indiscretions will be placed in his permanent record.
Mathieu, among others, sent $40,000 to one of his kid’s schools to help build a new football field. He charged $700 in personal dining to the airport. He wined and dined staff and politcos — including Mayor Mark Stodola and chamber of commerce leader Jay Chesshir — at a dizzying pace, including at wine-fueled repasts at expensive Parisian restaurants. He charged his dress shirts to the public. He took foreign and domestic junkets, always in a first-class seat on long flights.
But the Airport Commission has proclaimed Mathieu’s work as wonderful except for these little blips. Now it’s assessed a bit of a financial nick. (He got an $8,200 bonus last year on top of his $181,000 salary.) Mathieu, of course, deserved no pay raise even if he’d had a pristine record. Nobody is getting a pay raise in government this year. The better question is whether he earned a pay cut. The record suggests he did. He was, in short, treated no differently than any public employee in Arkansas — and most of them did their job without misspending public money for private use.
Mathieu’s record may come up yet one more time this year in a public setting. As we’ve written before, the commissioners love Mathieu because he’s increased revenue at a time of declining airport usage. How? By confiscatory parking rates. By capturing the airline boarding fees that are socked to passengers. And by increasing by huge amounts the charges put on people who depend on the airport for business — such as rental car agencies and private airport parking services.
The House this week may consider a bill passed in the Senate to prevent Mathieu from sticking an $80,000-a-year fee on the Security Airport Parking for using airport roads to take customers to and from the terminal. Do you think their shuttle buses cause that much road damage? Of course they don’t. And the airport charges nothing to the hotels that make similar use of airport roads. But this is the kind of extortion that has made Mathieu such a commission favorite. The owners of Security think they are being punished for refusing to sell their property to the airport. (Imagine what rental fees would be if the airport had a monopoly on airport parking. It boggles the mind.)
I’m not wholly sympathetic to the Baker family that owns the parking concession. They’ve long owned the land and presumably their overhead is comparatively low. Every time the airport raises rates (and that’s often), they can raise rates, too, and have done so. I also confess the Baker family’s Republican political advertising at the airport gateway when they owned the Avis franchise still rankles a bit. It is also a touch hypocritcal for small-government Repubs to turn to an act of the legislature to win advantage for private business. But it does seem true that they are getting screwed, as are the rest of airport users, by price-gouging airport policies. Security at least gives you your first 59 minutes of parking free, which effectively makes them the free cell phone parking lot that the airport refuses to provide the public.
NOTE: Commissioner Tom Schueck pressed again for more study of establishment of a cell phone lot, which Mathieu has resisted because it would cut gouging of customers.
The city is employing a raft of lobbyists to beat the parking fee bill in the House, sponsored in the Senate by Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. See a memo from parking deck owner Drew Baker on the issue on the jump.