Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Our Long Local Nighmare About Hawaiigate

The Citizen-Times has yet another story about Asheville Airport board members in Hawaii. In the January 13 issue. Mark Barrett reports that the three board members accused of junketeering  - Susan Fisher, David Gantt and Dave Hillier - rebut with a “536-word statement” explaining how they have interacted “with other airport representatives, key national leaders  and attended formal sessions where valuable information is presented and discussed.”

They also explain that the approximately $13.000 cost of the trip is within the airport’s overall budget of about $56,000 for executive travel.  And other small airports have sent more than one representative, they say.

To prove they are really working, Barrett reports, “the board members included a photo - a low-resolution shot sent via e-mail - showing Fisher and Gantt meeting U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

The Citizen-Times posted the full statement on the Web. It did not  post the photo.

Comments seemed to be running predominantly against the Asheville conference attendees. One comment defended the trip, although not the number of people who went.  Another comment expressed the "cons" nicely and had a good suggestion for the media:  ask Fisher and Gant,, to write a comment piece for the paper, summing up what tangible benefits they gained for Asheville: "When these three freeloaders return to Asheville with their families and suntans I look forward to the ACT giving them the guest commentray [sic]space for a full detailed report on what we citizens got for our money to send them on this luxury vacation. Each one of them has an obligation to us taxpayers to inform us how we benefitted [sic] from this extravgance [sic]. Short of a full report as to value received for this trip they owe it to us to reimburse every dime. My husband and I went on line to the conference website asking for a copy of the agenda for each day of this conference and were told we could not get one. Guess they don't want us to know how the days were spent, like Monday's early dismissal of business sessions so all attendees could have an afternoon of golf. And, if this was indeed an all business trip, where did they find the time to be with their accompaning [sic] family members?"

The Citizen-Times offered its own comprehensive opinion as well.

I’ve been interested in what I grandiosely labeled Hawaiigate more for how the Citizen-Times and Mountain Xpress are doing their journalistic duties than for the shenanigans of politicians.  Although political shenanigans are fun and deserve some fun-poking. So this may be the last post on this matter, unless there is more real news.

Note Barrett’s description of the photo quoted above.  Why “a low-resolution shot sent via e-mail?”  And why count the 536 words of the statement?

So, to repeat previous questions, will Hawaiigate die down?  Was this just media theater?  Will a mild-mannered reporter investigate travel spending by other agencies for Mountain Xpress?

On a sidenote, our non-junketeering, hardworking representatives in Hawaii say in their statement that the Asheville Regional Airport Authority is “an independent authority which receives no local or state tax dollars. ARAA is a self sufficient and fiscally sound entity.”  If this is accurate, perhaps a reader who understands government budets can explain the following from the Buncombe County Budget, which seems to suggest that the county is fiscally responsible for the AARA.  Emphases added.

“In previous years, the County has reported net deficits in governmental unrestricted net assets as part of its legal obligation to provide capital funding for the two local school systems, a community college, and the airport authority. While the assets are funded by the County, they are owned and utilized by the respective entity and reflected as assets on their financial statements. Therefore, the County has incurred a liability without a corresponding increase in assets. At the end of the fiscal year, approximately $105.4 million of the outstanding debt on the County’s financial statements was related to assets included in the financial statements of the school systems, community college, and the airport authority.

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