Airport executives' high spending prompts call for CEO's resignation

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While many Hoosiers can't afford a trip out of town, the people paid to run Indianapolis International Airport are flying around the world.

From Denmark to Brazil and Zurich to Greece, the world travel bills are a concern for some city leaders.

"It's excessive and it undermines the confidence," said Angela Mansfield, a city-county council member for Indianapolis-Marion County.

Mansfield is one of three city council members who recently voted against the airport's $200 million budget. Joanne Sanders was another.

"This is public money from a board appointed by public officials. I think we owe the public an explanation," said Sanders.

Their biggest concern mounts in piles of documents and expense reports.

Fox59 uncovered the airport has spent nearly $137,000 on business travel in the first eight months of this year, with three airport executives responsible for spending a little more than half of that money.

"Does the criticism bother me?" asked John Clark, the airport's CEO & President."Yes, it does bother me but what people don't understand is what happens in the airport business."

Clark said the airport business is in trouble. Hundreds of regional airports could close, and airlines are reduced to a handful. That's why Clark said he has to grow business.

"We need to get out so people know who Indianapolis is," said Clark.

In the first eight months of 2011, Clark's flown all over the country and to Montreal but his biggest expense was a trip to Switzerland. He met with in Zurich with Comlux executives, who have two hangers in Indianapolis. They also have plans to bring nearly 500 jobs in the next few years. Clark said his trip was well worth it.

"That's how we build and establish business so we have a seat at the table," said Clark.

The explanation isn't as clear for a March trip to Phoenix labeled Bootcamp 2011, according to expense reports, though. The Boulders resort told Fox59 that it did not have an organized event or meeting called Bootcamp 2011. It cost $2,500. Clark said it was a trip for several Indianapolis executives.

"I thought it was beneficial to help these folks understand the business of the airport," said Clark.

He didn't say why Phoenix was the spot or even who he took, when asked by Fox59.

"I'm not going to do that," said Clark.

It appears Clark was with several others, but they spent at least half their days on the golf course, at a cost of $1,000.

"Part of the culture is to play golf," said Clark.

Chief Information Officer Al Stanley flew to Brazil in May for an airport conference that cost $10,000. Fox59 saw the same conference available in Las Vegas next month.

In March, Stanley flew to Denmark to speak at a conference but he flew in two days before it started and left three days after it ended. It wasn't until months later, after Fox59 started asking for expense reports that Stanley reimbursed the airport authority.

"He submitted for reimbursement only after you questioned it. I wonder how many other expenditures we don't know about," said Mansfield.

"It was an oversight," explained Clark. "We are all guilty. We come back from a trip and we are inundated."

Travel records indicate Chief Financial Officer Marsha Stone had a similar issue this year. She's traveled to New York, Newport Beach, Washington D.C., Denver and Dallas for the Super Bowl. After the Super Bowl, she flew to Denver and then took a personal trip to Steamboat Springs. It took her months to pay that back.

"When you go deep into the staff," questioned Sanders."Why is the CFO going to Greece?"

Clark said he wanted to challenged Stone by sitting on the World Economics Board in Athens, Greece, to see other airports' best practices.

Fox59 wanted to know the practices of other airports. We compared travel expenses to similar sized airports like Cincinnati. The CEO and Board members spent $33,000 on travel this year, half of what Indianapolis executives spent.

The Columbus, Ohio airport CEO and 8 board members racked up $69,000 in total over the last two years. That's less than what Indy's executives spent in the first half of 2011.

"I can't comment on what they are spending, we are engaging in broader business," said Clark.

In Minneapolis, the 14th busiest airport in the country, 15 commissioners, board members and two directors spent $32,000 in the first seven months of this year. That's half of what Indianapolis' three executives have spent this year. The spending has prompted council member Angela Mansfield to ask for John Clark's resignation.

"Personally, I'd like to see him gone," said Mansfield."He's not good for our airport or our city for that matter."

But Clark said he's not going anywhere.

"I'm not stepping down. I'm doing my job."

There's more approval than complaints from city leaders. The rest of the city-county council approved the airport's 2012 budget, including travel expenses.

Clark said he's committed to Indianapolis and his plan is to retire here.

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