I am mad as hell about the Airport Authority delegation's $13,000 trip to sunny Hawaii in the dead of winter to attend the Aviation Issues Conference.
I'm not mad because the delegation went to Hawaii; I'm mad because the local press irresponsibly sensationalized the issue. They served up this red herring to a populace already suffering from a record cold spell that devastated the area and sparked a virulent epidemic of cabin fever.
Although I have serious political differences with more than one person in the delegation, I disdain the Fox News approach to reporting this story.
The airport board is one of the most important bodies serving our area.
We have a very fine airport featuring a surprising number of carriers. That level of service helps attract business and industry while encouraging tourism, producing many local jobs.
Our legislative bodies appoint board members who administer a multimillion-dollar budget and are responsible for providing service, security and safety to the flying public. There are two issues at hand: The delegation went to Hawaii, and they spent about $4,000 per person.
Isn't it part of the commissioners' responsibilities to attend seminars and meetings related to airport operation?
I am also confident that had this meeting taken place in Salina, Kan., in July with the delegates staying in the Eight Days Inn, holding their meetings in the high-school gymnasium and eating in the school cafeteria, there would have been no outcry and the delegates would not even have gotten honorable mention for their time and effort.
The folks in charge of trade shows and national meetings know that to stage a successful event, they must hold it in an attractive, exciting place such as Hawaii, Las Vegas, San Antonio, New York — or even that den of iniquity, Asheville — in order to maximize attendance. For the same reason, they book these meetings in first-class hotels with convenient facilities.
Believe me, I am tighter than Dick's hatband when it comes to spending money, and at first blush the costs might seem excessive, but they're pretty much determined by the airfares and room charges, plus convention fees and meals.
Of course, this issue only encourages those folks we used to call "aginners," who have now morphed into the Tea Party. They show up with pitchforks ready to pillory the whole delegation.
They pounced on state Rep. Susan Fisher, citing the absolutely shocking revelation that her family of four stayed in the same room at no additional cost to the taxpayers. They siezed on her daughter's foolish gaffe in publishing family photos on Facebook, and they insist that these were high crimes and misdemeanors.
But the aginners are always agin everything. They've been around here forever, showing up at public meetings to complain and accuse. They are certain that everyone who serves in a public capacity is dishonest and has ulterior motives and that only they are righteous citizens.
When it comes to board or committee appointments and elections, however, they shoot themselves in the foot, because they appear to be more interested in finger-pointing and disruption rather than in legislation, negotiation and compromise, which is the way we advance the people's business in a democracy. Meanwhile, their nasty tactics and antics discourage some of our best and brightest from entering public service.
This group would have you believe that these delegates had the foresight to get themselves appointed to the Airport Authority so they could escape the great blizzard of 2010 by frolicking in sunny Hawaii at taxpayer expense.
None of our elected or appointed officials is more than fractionally compensated, at best, for the time and effort they expend serving our community, and many aren't compensated at all.
If some board members charged their professional rate for the time they spent on this six-day trip, it would exceed the $4,000 per capita cost. They should be respected for donating their time and effort.
I wonder how many of the Tea Party people who are so busy tearing down others' efforts volunteered to help out in the homeless shelters, or delivered for Meals On Wheels, or donated to the Eblen Foundation to help those less fortunate keep from freezing to death during this miserable cold spell.
It would really be refreshing to see these tea folks put the same effort into organizing humanitarian projects as they do in their aginner campaigns. Show us what you're doing right rather than telling us what others are doing wrong.
I don't know how big our delegation should have been, but I do know that over my many years in business, I attended scores of conventions and found them to be invaluable. I always got my money's worth and more.
If the board faces economic challenges, it should enact limits, but don't blame members for doing what they see as their job. We live in a competitive world. There are so many new ideas worth exploring that we must keep up or dry up.
If our delegation got to meet airline and government folks and commissioners from other airports who could help us develop resources and solve problems, then we got an excellent payback.
With all the federal money floating around now, suppose our delegation hadn't attended and we later found out we'd missed out on a big grant or failed to learn about new regulations that were discussed. Would the tea-baggers not accuse them of dereliction of duty, and rightfully so?
I do think delegation members should give a public report outlining the meetings they attended and the things they learned.
And who can say the group won't hold its next meeting in Asheville, meaning the Hawaiian delegates will spend $4,000 apiece to fly into our great airport and visit us?
Talk about payback.
[Asheville native Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]