Is this really a guy we want on the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority right now? Dennis L. Martire, a senior executive with the Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), has racked up $38,000 in expenses attending five conferences in 2010 and 2011. Writes the Washington Post editorial board:
In May last year, for instance, he took a nine-day trip to attend a 36-hour conference on the Italian island of Sardinia, best known as the Mediterranean haunt of supermodels and Russian billionaires. He brought along a companion, as he did on previous trips to conferences in Prague and Belgium; the authority did not pay the companion’s expenses.
Mr. Martire’s ostensible purpose in Sardinia was to take part in a forum, at a luxurious seaside resort, that was sponsored by the Airports Council International, an industry group. However, the forum’s focus — small regional airports in Europe — was a tangential topic for U.S. airports, to put it mildly. Of the 160 or so delegates who registered for the event, he was almost the only American, according to conference organizers. And no wonder: The forum was irrelevant to U.S. airport executives.
On returning from his Sardinian adventure, Mr. Martire filed an expense claim for $10,586, most of it for a business-class air ticket. … He also wrote a brief trip report, noting that smartphones can be useful tools for airports to communicate with passengers.
In a statement, Mr. Martire defended the trip as “directly relevant to my duties as a Board member” and “fully legitimate and absolutely consistent with [airports authority] policies.” However, he did not explain how it was relevant or answer any of our specific questions — for instance, why he chose to attend a conference in Sardinia when the same sponsor holds almost 20 conferences and seminars in the United States and Canada each year.
Martire, who was appointed by former Gov. Tim Kaine, pushed for a mandatory Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on Phase 2 of the Rail-to-Dulles project that would require the prime contractor to hire through union hiring halls in an arrangement that also would funnel thousands of dollars into various union funds. MWAA determined that his involvement did not represent a conflict of interest.
It’s a positive sign that in response to questions about board travel practices, Chairman Michael Curto announced last week that he has suspended international travel. Curto, it appears, is less tone deaf than his predecessors. Good for him. But the real issue remains ensuring that Phase 2, estimated to cost $2.7 billion, is built for the least amount of money possible. Soliciting bids under the current board policies, which would give a major edge to contractors using PLAs, could limit the number of bids and lead to a low bid potentially costing millions of dollars more.
The revelations of Martire’s expense-account extravagances may have other ramifications. When Virginia and Washington, D.C., amend the interstate compact governing MWAA governance — assuming that D.C. does amend it — Gov. Bob McDonnell and other appointing executives will have the power to replace board members “for cause.” One could argue that pushing pro-union PLAs was a policy matter, not sufficient to justify bumping Martire from the board. But taking junkets to Italy could give McDonnell just the reason he needs to replace Martire with one of his own people.
Oh, and one more thing… LiUNA accountants might want to take a close look at expenses that Martire has filed with the laborers’ union. If I were a LiUNA member, I’d like to know what what he’s doing with my union dues.