LITTLE ROCK (AP) — A private school has decided to return the $40,000 paid by Arkansas’ largest airport for advertisements that were to appear on the school’s football field.
Little Rock National Airport on Friday released a copy of a check from Little Rock Christian Academy, along with a letter from airport Executive Director Ron Mathieu requesting the money be returned and the advertising contract be canceled, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
Last week, the Arkansas Times reported that airport staff decided to buy two advertisements featuring the airport’s website, www.fly-lit.com, on Warrior Field. One of Mathieu’s two sons attends the school.
T.J. Williams, the airport’s director of media, marketing and public affairs, has said she and the airport’s deputy director, Bryan Malinowski, made the final decision to buy the ad. She e-mailed a statement to the Democrat-Gazette from Mathieu that said he supported buying the ad but delegated responsibility for the decision about whether it should be bought to his staff in an attempt to avoid a "perception of impropriety." He said he did not sign the contract for the ad.
When asked at a May commission meeting to explain an increase in the airport’s marketing budget accommodating the expenditure, Mathieu said it was for increased marketing expenses associated with the website, which officials wanted to promote to generate more activity and income. However, he didn’t specifically mention the ads.
Mathieu apologized for the flap on Tuesday and met in executive session with the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, which publicly admonished him for what it described as a serious error in judgment. The commission called for an attempt to be made to secure the return of the money.
Under the contract terms, the school was not obligated to return the entire amount. The earliest either party could withdraw from the contract was July 1, 2013, with 180 days notice, according to a contract clause. The airport then would only be eligible to receive a prorated amount, or $28,000.
"Out of respect for the excellent work of the Little Rock National Airport Commission and yourself in advancing the vision and quality of service of the airport and in the interest of continuing the fellowship we all enjoy in our wonderful city, we agree to release the Little Rock National Airport from its agreement to advertise to the community through our venue," Gary Arnold, who is head of the school, wrote in his letter returning the check.
Commission Chairman Bob East said he hoped the money’s return would end the matter.
"We talked to the school. They understand," East said Friday. "They want to settle like we do, and they sent us the check. We wanted to get this taken care of and move on to other things."
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com