I-Team Investigation Prompts Mayor To Reimburse Airport
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – For most of us, a nice night out on the town might cost a $100 or so. But how does $7,000 on dinner sound? And what if a majority of that tab was for booze?
The dinner referenced above took place in Seoul, South Korea. A Dallas Fort Worth International Airport board member and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings picked out the wine for a party of eight. His choice? Three bottles of Chateau Haut-Brion, a French red wine, each costing more than $1,500.
CBS 11 News Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal began looking into DFW Airport’s travel and spending after several sources reached out.
In 2012 airport executives and board members spent $2.2 million flying around the world, promoting the airport. Airport representatives explain the money is used to support air service development, maintain relationships with airlines and seek out new relationships with airports, airlines and decision makers who determine what air routes stay and will come to DFW.
David Magana, the senior manager of DFW Public Affairs, explained there is a level of expectation on these trips. “You cannot bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an airline CEO and call it a business lunch. There is a level. There is absolutely a level. It’s not an entitlement. It is absolutely part of doing business.”
CBS 11 I-Team reporter Mireya Villarreal, while reviewing thousands of documents detailing trips taken around the world by DFW executives and board members, uncovered the Seoul dinner expense.
Villarreal sat down with Mayor Rawlings to ask about the Seoul expenses. The entire dinner for one night cost $7,391; a majority of that tab was alcohol. During the interview Mayor Rawlings declined to look at the receipt.
“Nearly $8,000 in alcohol. Why spend that much money,” Villarreal asked. “Well, how much was the Chateau Brion?” Mayor Rawlings asked. “Each one was $1,500 a piece,” Villarreal noted. Rawlings returned, “Exactly.”
Villarreal asked, “Why not order a cheaper wine then?” Mayor Rawlings responded, “I did. I did. I umm,” pausing he continued, “In trying to make sure President Chi was treated in a first class manner, and wanted to get that $60 million, I decided that a good $150 bottle of wine was a good expenditure.”
But Rawling’s wine order that night wasn’t $150 it was $1,500 a bottle. After ordering three bottles, the wine alone cost more than $4,500.
“I knew Chateau Brion as a good wine,” Rawlings remembered. “I believed at $150 a bottle, it was a good value.
“Normally, it retails for about $500 to $600 in the states,” Villarreal said. “I know. I understand,” Rawlings responded.
“So, how would you think it was $150,” Villarreal asked. “Because I was ordering the wine and I was translating from won to dollars,” Rawlings said.
Ross Kesceg works with Empower Texans, a watchdog organization that focuses on responsible spending. He has concerns with any DFW board member or executive spending customer dollars this way.
“Well, the problem with spending $8,000 on a taxpayer funded dinner for public officials, and the people they are engaging with, is the fact that they’re spending other people’s money,” he said.
Kesceg doesn’t agree that $2.2 million a year needs to be spent by DFW International, an airport owned by the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, on travel like this.
“The people who should be competing for the business opportunity that the airport provides are the airlines themselves. So, the notion that the airport has to spend millions of dollars attracting airlines to use the airport doesn’t make any sense,” Kesceg pointed out.
Mayor Rawlings explained the group was in Seoul to meet with Korean Air executives. Their goal was to increase air service from five days a week to seven. Board Chairman Robert Hseuh, DFW International Airport’s former CEO Jeff Fegan, and Vice President of Air Service Development Luis Perez were also in attendance.
DFW spokesman Magana noted that Mayor Rawlings paid back the money he spent on wine once he found out the CBS 11 I-Team was investigating.
“Why decide to pay it back,” Mireya Villarreal asked the Mayor. “Because we need to be good stewards,” he said. “We do not need to be spending $1,500 a bottle on wine.”
Mayor Rawlings wrote a check from his campaign fund in August, less than two months after our investigation began. “It was good for the city, but I didn’t want the citizens to pay for it,” he added.
Luis Perez is the vice president of Air Service Development for DFW International Airport. He paid for the group’s dinner in Seoul, South Korea. However, DFW’s travel policy requires that “the highest ranking employee in attendance shall pay for the business development expense” (Section 4.12.8).
On this trip, the highest-ranking employee would have been CEO Jeff Fegan.
When questioned about this possible violation, Magana explained via email, CEO Fegan made an exception for Perez’s purchase. The electronic response said, in part, “Mr. Perez began the transaction by making the restaurant reservation in the weeks prior to the meeting, he then paid the bill at the restaurant with the same credit card, with the approval of the CEO and Board Chair — who were present. Section 5.4.1 of the DFW Travel Policy entitled “Approvals of Trip Requests, Expenses, and Exceptions,” specifically identifies that the CEO, among others, has the authority to approve exceptions to the policy.’”
In May 2013 Korean Air began two new routes with DFW International, for a total of seven direct flights a week.
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