COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The chairman and vice chairman of a northern Kentucky airport board are in Italy this week at a cost of at least $20,000 for a three-day conference.
Kenton County Airport Board chairman Jim Huff and vice chairman Larry Savage are staying for 12 days, intending to repay the airport for expenses incurred when not at the conference, The Kentucky Enquirer (http://bit.ly/16NKHRr) reported.
Documents obtained by the newspaper through an open records request show the first-class airfares for Huff and Savage totaled nearly $15,000. Admission to the conference for airport chief executive officers and human resources officials cost nearly $1,500 apiece, and the conference hotel costs nearly $240 a night before taxes.
The airport board has defended such travel, saying attendance at conferences allows members to better understand and deal with airport development issues.
In a statement, the board said the conference in Bologna, Italy, offered sessions on such topics as culture development, leading an airport during major industry upheaval and senior leadership development including the dynamics of succession. It said the conference also provided "real world insights from the airline industry."
Huff and Savage will turn in their final expenses from the Italy trip after they return, having paid for most of it on their own credit cards, officials said.
Huff did not return messages left on his cellphone, the newspaper said.
The newspaper said it found other questionable travel spending by airport board members, based on a review of hundreds of airport documents. That included:
—Spending nearly $5,400 for two dinners during a conference in Calgary in September 2012.
—Paying nearly $1,000 for a separate dinner for five board members in Calgary.
—Holding two board dinners for nearly $3,500 total for board members and their spouses at a conference in Tucson, Ariz., in April 2011.
—Spending $2,600 for a board dinner in Pasadena, Calif., in April of this year at a conference.
—Throwing two local parties for board members and their spouses and some staff in the last two years at a cost of about $4,300 and $3,000, respectively.
Aviation consultant Michael Boyd said there is some justification for sending board members to conferences, but "it also becomes a question of whether they're being educated or just entertained." As for the trip to Italy, Boyd said, "That is a boondoggle, plain and simple."
"Why would you send just two board members to Italy to learn about change and airport leadership?" said Boyd, president of the Colorado-based aviation consultancy The Boyd Group.
The Kenton County Airport Board has been set up as a public agency and special taxing districting by the state legislature and is considered a governmental agency.
The trip to Italy comes less than six months after an auditor reviewing the finances of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and its oversight board recommended revamping travel policies and expenses for board members, saying they were not in line with other U.S. airports.
Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com