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The airport authority is considering an idea that its chairman has previously rejected: Daily spending limits for travel. The caps, known as per-diems, limit how much public officials can be reimbursed for hotel stays and meals while traveling on public business.

As currently proposed, the limits would only apply to board members, not authority employees, who did the bulk of the authority’s travel and enjoyed some of the most expensive meals eaten on the traveling public’s dime in the last three years.

Those included:

  • Authority president/CEO Thella Bowens’ $99.73 dinner (she ate fish and bought a $6 bottle of water) while staying at a $600-a-night hotel in Geneva.
  • Diana Lucero, who oversees the authority’s art program, ordered an $84 prix fixe spaghetti dinner while at a Toronto conference. A consultant traveling with her had the $79.56 duck confit.
  • Bowens and Matthew Harris, the authority’s senior director, dined earlier this year at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant in Washington, D.C. They weren’t staying there. The dinner’s cost for two: $195.90.
  • Vernon Evans, the authority’s chief financial officer, spent $85 on dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House while attending a Seattle finance conference.

The authority is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the policy change, proposed after we revealed that authority employees and board members weren’t always following the agency’s existing guidelines for reimbursements and were continuing to eat meals that cost as much as $99 while traveling.

The city and county governments both adhere to standard per-diem caps on travel expenses, which are set according to federal standards. Under these standards, employees get a maximum $71 reimbursement for meals each day and a maximum $340 for hotel stays.

The authority currently requires meal expenses to be “reasonable” and related to airport business. The Unified Port of San Diego has a similar policy

ROB DAVIS

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