News 2 investigates Airport Commission travel
BATON ROUGE- Some Airport Commissioners are calling for limits on their own travel after a News 2 investigation.
We looked at four years worth of conference trips, from Boston to San Diego, and found thousands were spent to learn about airports across the country.
The Airport Commission spent more than $80,000 in conference travel since 2008, but about a third comes from one person, Rose Doolittle.
She isn't a commissioner, but a designee, who represents State Senator Yvonne Dorsey. She can vote at meetings and can travel like an appointed commissioner, and does.
Doolittle said, "If I'm going to be part of something, I need to be knowledgeable about what I'm doing and I take this volunteer opportunity seriously. This is an awesome responsibility."
Airport records show Doolittle has attended eleven conference in four years, three a year, every year, except two in 2008. Doolittle defends the travel.
"I have not done anything that was not in line with what the council says that I can do," she said.
Commissioner Michael Samuel and another designee, Patrishia LeDuff took six trips in four years. She represented legislator Sharon Weston-Broome until this month.
Commission Chairman Jim Ellis and Metro Councilman, as well as Commissioner Trae Welch have taken three trips each in that time frame.
"These things cost a lot of money and we are going to have to pay a whole lot more attention to what's going on," said Welch.
One of five commissioners who has never attended a conference was shocked.
Commission Vice President Buddy Amoroso said, "I'm kind of amazed, I knew that there was travel going on, but I never knew it was to this extent. Eighty-thousand dollars is a lot of money in these tough economic times."
Conference fees cover registration, airfare, hotel bills and and a $44-a-day per diem. The airport and city-parish track costs, but doesn't ask what a commissioner got out of the conference.
"When the commissioners from around the country meet, we're not allowed to attend those meetings because sometimes we're the subject matter, which is fine," said Airport Director Anthony Marino, "I want them to talk to other commissioners and hear what's going on in their airport and maybe say 'Let me tell you what Marino wants to do in Baton Rouge' and get a reaction to that, I'm all for that."
Marino admits things are missed, which News 2 found in our investigation. Commissioners are paid per diem for every day of a conference, as well as the day before and after. However, when Doolittle went to Tuscon in 2011, she was paid for an extra day.
Marino said, "It got by our system, as much as check and balance as we have, and when you guys noticed it, we went back and found it and said you know what there was an overpayment."
"I do not add up anything," said Doolittle, "I trust staff."
Some commissioners think this calls for a change.
Welch said, "There is worth, but at the same time, I think after looking at all the annual trips that are going on I think that we probably ought to do is have the commissioners split 'em up and then come back and give a report."
"There is benefit involved with it, but I think going once every two years is sufficient," said Amoroso.
Doolittle maintains there's a useful purpose that pays off.
She said, "There's a lot to learn, we want the best for this community."
Both Amoroso and Welch say they will bring up the idea of limiting travel at next month's Airport Commission meeting.
And as for the over-payment to Doolittle, she gave the money back within an hour of being informed of the oversight.