Expensive meal and wine receipts from Airports Authority

Previously undisclosed receipts reveal new details about meals and travel expenses by directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, including the names of board members cited in a recent report by the U.S. Transportation Department.

The report, by the department’s inspector general, criticized the authority’s board, citing lax rules and procedures. It also questioned expensive dinners, last-minute airline trips, and the quasi-public agency’s contracting and disclosure policies.

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With a nearly $2 billion annual budget, the MWAA has 1,400 employees and oversees the management of Reagan National and Dulles International airports. Its board is also responsible for overseeing the $6 billion project to build Metro’s Silver Line to Northern Virginia.

In one case, the inspector general raised concerns about an airline ticket to Prague, costing about $9,200, that a board member booked barely a week before the trip. The report asked why the ticket wasn’t booked further in advance for a cheaper fare and criticized the board’s travel policy for not having “specific guidelines” to limit travel costs.

Receipts show Dennis Martire, an MWAA board member, took the Prague trip in October 2010. He booked the $9,192.30 business-class ticket through a travel agency nine days before he left and was later reimbursed for the ticket by the MWAA. Martire is vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America — a group that represents dozens of local unions.

In an e-mail response Friday to a request for comment, Martire referred questions to the MWAA.

A spokeswoman for the agency, Kimberly Gibbs, said in an e-mail that Martire booked his ticket “when his schedule allowed him to determine that he would be able to attend” the Prague conference on airport-related issues.

Quince Brinkley, the secretary and vice president to the MWAA board, said Friday in a phone interview that board members “need a little bit of flexibility on their schedule” in booking trips to conferences because “they’re volunteers and they have full-time jobs.” He also said the board members are encouraged to “try to be as economical as [they] can” in booking trips, and pointed out that the board’s travel policy does not prohibit business-class airline tickets.

The inspector general also criticized the MWAA board for not having “suggested limits or thresholds” for food and flights related to business. It cited meal expenses for some board members and their guests at a conference in Hawaii as a concern, where it found that dinners on three separate days totaled about $4,800.

Receipts show the meals included lobster tails, lamb, veal, crab cakes and seared foie gras.

An explanation of the expenses shows those who attended some or all of the Hawaii dinners included former board members Mame Reiley, Leonard Manning and Charles D. Snelling, as well as current board members Martire, Bob Brown and Michael O’Reilly and a current MWAA manager, Leslie Berkowitz. They also entertained guests and airport officials from San Diego and Chicago airports, plus Stephen Morrissey, the director of government affairs for United Airlines, and Charles Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives.

Another expense the inspector general questioned was a $238 reimbursement for two bottles of wine at a Nov. 30, 2010, dinner at the Fyve restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pentagon City for a business-related dinner. The inspector general said the expenses “may appear excessive.”

A receipt shows Snelling, who was chairman of the MWAA board, purchased a $133 bottle of Jordan cabernet and a $105 bottle of Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.

Snelling attended the $1,053.56 dinner with his wife, Adrienne, Reiley, Brown, Martire and Greg Wolfe, who serves as a MWAA lawyer.

The Nov. 30 dinner was held the night before an officially scheduled MWAA meeting, which has prompted questions about whether the meetings were official ones.

According to Brinkley, it is not a violation of the board’s policies or bylaws for board members to meet before board meetings or committee meetings — a policy that is different for public entities that often have rules prohibiting members to meet in a quorum when not in public sessions.

Brinkley called the dinners the night before board and committee meetings, which Snelling held, “social and business dinners.”

He said Snelling, who lived in Pennsylvania, “would come into town and invite all the directors to come in and have dinner with him.”

“He felt it was a time he could talk about issues and understand any concerns they had,” Brinkley said. Snelling, who took his own life and that of his ailing wife in March, held the dinners because “he was here only twice a month [for board meetings] and he wanted to understand what the issues and concerns” of board members were and to “get to know them,” according to Brinkley.

The board’s new chairman, Michael Curto, has not held dinners the night before board or committee meetings, according to Brinkley. Curto said on Friday that he would not comment.

 
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