If Ron Mathieu wanted to give $40,000 to a private Christian school his son attends, he should have taken it from his own pocket. This is not a close call, though some airport commissioners will try to make it so, hoping to protect their own reputations. They'll be safer in the long run if they dump Mathieu now. Unethical and unrepentant until a public outcry forced a belated apology Tuesday, he's apt to try something like this again, and next time, it could be even worse, the danger to the commissioners who employ him even greater.
The executive director of Little Rock National Airport was caught with his hand in the public till by the Arkansas Times' Leslie Peacock, who, despite their resistance, squeezed incriminating admissions from the furtive Mathieu and his slippery subordinate, Tiajuana Williams. (Williams, the airport's media manager, is supposedly on the payroll to provide public information, not conceal it. Apparently she didn't get the memo.)
When an airport commissioner asked at a June meeting about a mysterious $40,000 increase in the Airport's marketing expenditures, Mathieu said the Airport was promoting its website. He referred vaguely to television and radio ads.
But Peacock learned that Mathieu had given the $40,000 to Little Rock Christian Academy to help buy new turf for the school's football field. He did so after receiving an e-mail from the school's development director with a subject line of "Important reminder regarding your LRCA turf pledge." Addressed to "Friends of Warrior Athletics," the director's e-mail said, "I just wanted to remind you about your donation to the turf project. As of today, only about 40 percent of the pledges have been realized. We will need all pledges turned into cash donations before this project can be given the green light ... Our deadline is fast approaching so please send it in as soon as possible and remember this is a tax-deductible donation."
In return for the donation, a 7-feet-by-10-feet logo containing the Airport's website address was placed on the sideline of the football field. Benchwarmers planning trips will find it handy.
Mathieu and Williams share an imperfect understanding of public employment. Mathieu says it would be discriminatory to deny him the right to hand over public money to a church school that competes with public schools, and with which he has a close connection, or to require him to tell the whole truth to taxpayers. Williams apparently believes she's exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and tries to hide even her own salary. The Airport Commission should replace both. Honesty and competence are not unreasonable requirements.