Several people have asked about the full exchange I had with Bob Watkins, the airport authority chairman, in which he suggested that journalists (or Internal Revenue Service auditors) don’t make enough money to appreciate the lifestyles led by the wealthy.
We were talking about a $99 dinner that authority President/CEO Thella Bowens ate while in Switzerland.
Nothing about the meal specifically violates the authority’s travel policies. But Watkins downplayed that expense — and several others that did violate the policies — by saying they were a small portion of the authority’s overall budget. He noted that the authority’s travel budget amounts to less than 1 percent of its $121 million budget.
Here’s that part of our Thursday interview:
Bob Watkins: I don’t know whether she was having dinner with 12 other people and that was her separate ticket. And for her to say excuse me while I go out and eat down the street because it’s 20 bucks cheaper, then I’ll come back and catch up with you when you’re finished, then fill me in on the details of the conversation, that seems to be extreme.
If I look at the total cost of our travel and travel expenses in terms of what’s the cost of doing business, it’s very low.
Rob Davis: That doesn’t make inappropriate expenses OK.
Watkins: It’s who perceives it to be an inappropriate expense. And if you’re maybe — you interview a lot of people and see a lot of people and you get the person who works for the Internal Revenue Service who’s making $40,000 a year and goes in and audits someone who lives in a $1 million dollar home or $2 million dollar home. They’re going to be skewed in terms of, ‘Wow, I don’t have that.’
Davis: So you’re saying because I’m a journalist, I can’t appreciate the finer things, finer meals?
Watkins: No, I avoided you in particular.
Davis: But that’s the analogy you’re drawing, so let’s just be — let’s just be open.
Watkins: To be very frank, what I wanted to take a look at was to say, OK, how does this place run as an organization? What’s the safety record of the organization? What’s the revenue generation over expenses in terms of its margin of profit in comparison to what it could be if it wasn’t run well? This place is run extremely well. And to continue to hammer on the employees who travel at their own inconvenience and where there may be few exceptions, most people are using the best judgment possible when they’re traveling to do this. … We’ve taken steps to sort of trim it so we don’t have an excessive use or abuse of the travel policies of the organization. And yes, there are going to be exceptions.
I’ll be on NBC7/39 today just before 4:30 p.m. to talk about the story.