Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Updates and Corrections

Mountain Xpress publisher Jeff Forbes gives a good reply to RandomAsheville in a comment on the Nelda Holder post and catches us in a misspelling: "The name is Mountain Xpress, not Express. You might call this a detail, but attention to detail is one of the hallmarks of good journalism." He's absolutely right, of course. And his advice to RandomAsheville is right-on. Older, wiser heads (OWHs) should always prevail.

In further updating and corrections . . .

MX publisher catches RandomAsheville in yet another misspelling. See comment and entertaining story to go with it.

Mark Barrett continues to pursue Hawaiigate in the Citizen-Times, with a story on January 12 that former city council member and airport board appointee Bryan Freeborn attended an airport industry conference in Hawaii "just days before he left the board in January 2008."

Freeborn told Barrett he knew this might happen but attended anyway. "“So I lose the election," he said, "I'm going to stop doing my job? That's stupid."

Barrett had already revealed in a previous story that board members  do not report back to the full board about what they  learned at conferences. He might have followed up to Freeborn: "And did you attend any meetings of the board as a private citizen after losing the election, to give the board the benefit of your trip?"

Airport board junketeers are turning mush-mouthed as they try to talk their way out of this one. Barrett quoted Susan Fisher that being in Hawaii while Asheville was in a blizzard made her feel for the people back home. Freeborn's quote to Barrett got his foot further down his throat: “I know that the airport got a tremendous value out of every day I served as a board member."

As one commenter noted, "This trip appears to be a way for Brian to reward himself."

Can boondooglers Fisher and Gant, who must still face the voters, regain any credibility by offering to reimburse their Hawaiigate expenses? Will they make the offer?

Will Hawaiigate escalate or die down? Will the media watchdogs keep on the story? Is this story big enough to have consequences in the real world? Or is it just media theater?

One commenter suggested one real world consequence: "I would like to attend the next board meeting. Can anyone help out with where and when the meeting is? It is time to move beyond simply talking to each other and talk to the major players involved."

Another commenter liked the notion that citizens could be their own watchdogs: "It would certainly be interesting to see the reaction of that bunch if several Buncombe county citizens showed up at their meetings, just to monitor what was going on."

And he or she had some advice for the media: "It seems to me the Airport Board is playing fast and loose with the taxpayers' money as no news media attend their meetings on a regular basis. They may feel they can do what they please. The media, both newspaper and electronic, needs to be at each and every Airport Board meeting and report on it."

Meanwhile, Mountain Xpress has covered this story in its Blogwire links to other media. Their news gathering team is lean, and there may not be anything new to say. Maybe they are saving themselves for other, bigger investigations.

Are some in the works? On his independent Ashvegas blog , MountainX reporter Jason Sandford points the finger at a number of boards that oversee millions of taxpayer dollars. "Here's my question: have our other local boards been good stewards of taxpayers' money?"

Here's my question: can we expect some digging and reporting by MountainX into the boards that Sandford names? While Sandford/Ashvegas (or his readers) uncovered dark doings at Mission Hospitals, MountainX editor Jon Elliston seemed to be promising an investigation on Aug 28, 2009, ". . . the hospital story is an important one. I’m happy to report that we are indeed working on a story about the matter. Stay tuned ... "

Nothing further apparently until Oct. 27, 2009, when Sandford quoted his own AshVegas blog in MountainX: "Here’s the unconfirmed report, from the Ashvegas blog: Three separate sources have reported to me that Mission Hospitals’ CEO Joe Damore has tendered his resignation. ..."

Is Sandford Clark Kent at MountainX but unleashes Superman at Ashvegas? Will MountainX take the Ashvegas challenge? "Buncombe County commissioners and Asheville City Council members, as well as their top managers, might have traveled in the past year. Perhaps we could have a little government transparency and post, on a Web site, all the taxpayer money spent on travel for these two entities. . . I think we're talking about the tip of the iceberg here, folks."

Go get'em, Clark.


  1. I appreciate your receptivity. Now for one more slight correction: It's Jeff Fobes, not Forbes, although Xpress does have a David Forbes.

    I guess I should add the story of my Forbes forebears, back in the 1600s, who exited England to escape religious persecution. They wound up in Scandinavia with a lot of other expat Forbeses.

    When things got better in England, most returned. Some others took their time returning, and these few, the story goes, had children who, with their Scandinavian accents, found the name Forbes impossible to pronounce with the "r" in it. To them, we owe the few descendants named Fobes.

  2. Quill...I did attend at least 2 meetings after I left the board. And yes I did report back to board members about my trip and every trip I took on behalf of the airport. As I told Mark Barret, one trip resulted in expanded service from US Airways.

    As I posted on Ashvegas:
    Ash...I think your right about "The spending - questionable in good times - appears outrageous in these lean times. Here's my question: have our other local boards been good stewards of taxpayers' money?" Myself and other board members never hid the fact that we went on trips via our service to the airport. It was never a problem because we were actually getting tangible results from those trips, our operating and capital budgets were good, we were making major improvements to the airport while putting money aside for future needs, we did not raise fees, and everyone was happy. That is the airport.

    Now if it was city council and the city's taxes funding a trip like this it would be a different story. I know the Mayor and Councilwoman Cape have made a number of trips on the city's dime. They seem to justify them by saying they used those trips to get federal money and the public has given them a pass.

    The AC-T is missing the boat on this one. What most people do not get about the airport issue is that the industry, laws, and the doling out of user fees is based on the conversations that take place at conferences like this one. If you are not part of the conversation or make sure that the players know about your airport, the likelihood of your airport getting capital improvement funds is small.

    When you look at the amount of money spent on travel to conferences like this one by the airport and the additional federal and state funding that has been leveraged it is a no brainer. These trips are a great value for our airport. I still maintain my contacts from the 4 or 5 trips I took on behalf of the airport. You have to know your industry and you have to market your organization with in that industry. Otherwise you will get looked over.

    Most of the neigh-sayers about this issue are not operating at this level of business or have the back ground on the issue to make an informed comment. Even Mark Barret the reporter from the AC-T did not understand the difference between taxes and user fees and how the airport is run off user fees, not taxes until I educated him about it via phone interview yesterday. This is a guy that has been covering the airport for 3 years. I guess he is really paying attention. Notice the change in his language from "tax dollars" in earlier stories to "public money" in today's article.

    One problem is sending a majority of your board. Sending a quorum anywhere out of town is a bad idea unless it is being covered by local press. One or two members and the director is one thing. Three or more is just over kill. To any conference.

    The second problem and why this trip is even getting coverage is due to budget irregularities that have occurred over the last year. Apparently airport over reported the money they had and have come up short on operational funds. The airports most recent audit did not come back clean, which may be a first. The letter from the auditor raises a number of red flags that need to be further investigated. When pressed about this. Mark Barret from the AC-T did not seem to even think there was something to look into. When asked if he even goes to the board meetings he confessed that he did so infrequently and missed the last few.

  3. I have to correct myself. Mark Barrett was consistent in the use of "Public Money". After conversations with both him and John Boyle I reviewed the articles. He did not use tax dollars.