Longform

The Out of Towners

Page 3 of 4

United generally doesn't mind paying for promotional efforts on behalf of DIA, notes Molinaro. "It's in all of our best interests to get that airport stronger," he says. And public relations is a common theme on DIA travel expense forms, even among city officials with no apparent training in the field. In January, deputy director for planning and engineering Norm Witteveen flew to Washington, D.C., and spent two nights at the Sheraton to give a speech at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board. His purpose: "To highlight the positive DIA story and how it makes good CENTS!"

Sometimes, though, it's not clear exactly what--or who--is being promoted during these excursions. In February 1994, for instance, then-acting aviation director Ginger Evans billed the revenue fund $1,564 to fly to New York City and receive the "1993 Engineering News Records Award." In a letter to her supervisor, Evans claimed the trip would provide "positive recognition for DIA and the opportunity to be honored by the engineering industry." At that time, the airport was still a year away from opening and was plagued by baggage-system snafus. But Evans clearly was in a positive frame of mind. Among her expenses was $141 worth of toffee candy, which she purchased as a "thank you gift to the ENR staff."

Other trips seemed even more peripheral to DIA matters, promotional or otherwise. In November 1995, for example, DeLong took a $1,529 trip to Washington, D.C., solely to "interview candidates for the ACI president's position." DeLong defends the use of city funds to conduct the trade group's business, noting that ACI lobbies in Washington on behalf of Denver and other cities.

The city has used the airport revenue fund as a revolving travel budget for the Webb administration's various minority advancement efforts, as well. In 1993, under pressure from the mayor's office, the airport forked over $10,000 to fund a local minority group's "trade mission" to the West African nation of Gabon. After allegations that the expenditure violated federal rules against using aviation money for non-airport purposes, the trip was investigated by a state grand jury. That body brought no criminal charges.

Cash from the airport revenue fund also has gone to cover travel and meeting expenses of the Mayor's Office of Contract Compliance, an agency set up to encourage the use of minority contractors on city proj-ects. In 1994, for example, Webb's office billed the DIA revenue fund $393 to hold a catered luncheon and "staff retreat" for 25 MOCC employees in the VIP Room at the Denver Museum of Natural History. According to an expense form, the gathering was designed to "create a more TEAM oriented environment for downtown and DIA offices of MOCC."

In May 1995, four MOCC staffers billed the revenue fund to fly to sunny San Diego for a four-day Airport Business Diversity Conference. The quartet ran up $6,300 in charges to, among other things, "promote DIA's minority/women procurement program." Last fall MOCC staff assistant Sharon Hill spent six days in Detroit attending the National Minority Suppliers Development Council Conference. Her goal: "to increase our outreach program and help develop minority business." Other MOCC destinations last year: Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida.

Few employees, however, traveled in the style to which top officials such as DeLong and airport supervising attorney Lee Marable were accustomed. When DeLong flew to Washington, D.C., in June 1994 to give a speech at the Aero Club of Washington, his hotel bill for one night--$312 at the luxurious Capitol Hilton--could have paid the weekly salary of an airport janitor.

Marable's billing records in particular read like a traveler's guide to the nation's finest hoteliers. The attorney has billed the city $18,400 for twelve out-of-town trips in 1995 and 1996, mostly to Washington, D.C., and New York City, regarding federal investigations of alleged improprieties at DIA. There the former oil company attorney battled jet lag at three- and four-star hotels such as New York's Plaza Athne, a bastion of luxury modeled after the Paris original that features Oriental rugs and fine antiques.

In Washington, Marable usually bunked down at the J.W. Marriott, a three-star facility with a marble lobby and 24-hour room service. But DIA's top legal eagle reached the pinnacle of gracious living on the night of May 9, when he booked a two-room suite at the four-star Renaissance Mayflower on Connecticut Avenue, billing the city $250 for the privilege of spending the night surrounded by a gilded interior and having a telephone in the bathroom. The next night, Marable transferred to the Marriott, a comparative steal at only $209 per night that, according to the 1996 Mobil Travel Guide, features only "some bathroom phones."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Andy Van De Voorde