February 15, 2006 - Editor's note: This is the fourth story in a series examining the spending habits of Marana public officials. The EXPLORER reviewed records of the town's travel and training expenses for the last five fiscal years. The newspaper also reviewed bank statements and receipts to see how Marana officials are using their town-issued credit cards to spend taxpayer dollars.

Each spring for the last two years, Marana Airport Director Charlie Mangum books a flight home to Maryland, paying for it with his town-issued credit card.

The trip, though, is not all town business. Most of his time in Maryland is spent visiting family and friends.

At some point during the trip, Mangum makes his way over to Washington, D.C., where this past July he charged $536 to stay two nights at the Willard InterContinental. There, he attends the same training conference he went to the year before, during another taxpayer-paid trip to Maryland.

Mangum said he keeps going home to attend the same conference to learn more about contract control towers - a feature he hopes to someday add to the Marana Regional Airport.

"If I travel up to Maryland and I'm going out there anyways, they pay for my plane ticket, pay for my three-night hotel stay and my car rental," Mangum said. "And I would pay for everything else during the other six or seven days."

Finance Director Roy Cuaron, whose department monitors the town's travel expenses, said he had no idea Mangum and other town officials were taking out-of-state vacations in conjunction with the conferences they're paid to attend.

Mangum's travel expenses for the two and a half years he's been with the town total about $20,000 - significantly higher than the expenses of two other general aviation reliever airports in Arizona. By comparison, Buckeye's town-operated airport spent just $4,675 in the same time period, while Mesa's Falcon Field Airport, a much larger operation than Marana's, spent $10,272.

Mangum, who makes $75,000 a year and has a town-provided vehicle, has used his town credit card to make about $20,000 in charges in addition to his travel costs since he was hired. With a swipe of his Stockmen's Bank MasterCard, he's purchased everything from Krispy Kreme doughnuts to satellite TV service.

Thousands of dollars spent on conferences and other travel have landed Mangum in places such as Las Vegas, Orlando, San Francisco, Kansas City and Los Angeles. He recently returned from a one-week trip to San Diego, a destination he's visited several times on town business. In the 32 months or so he's been the town airport director he's taken almost two dozen out-of-town trips.

Mangum said his trips allow him to develop close working relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration and state officials. Marana has received several grants because Mangum's been able to sit face-to-face with aviation officials and explain the need for specific airport projects.

"Basically if you're bugging them and saying, 'Look, we're here, we're ready to take some money and we have a project that's ready to go,' then you're going to get the money," Mangum said. "If you're not working with them, it's going to be harder to get on their radar screen."

Mangum makes a good point. His hiring appears to be paying off for the town.

The airport's operating revenue has increased about 90 percent since he was hired in April 2003. The airport received $2.3 million in federal aviation grants and about $1.5 million in state grants last year - significantly more than the $307,363 the airport received the year before his arrival.

Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said he places a strong emphasis on travel and training, especially in regard to the airport. The growing aviation center has required several improvements since the town took control of it more than six years ago, and Marana still has big plans for its future, he said.

"We're fairly aggressive in working toward outside funding sources, and the airport's a really good example of that," Reuwsaat said. "It's taken a lot of travel to get those kinds of things done - to take it from kind of a local farm, general aviation airport to where we are now."

The town's emphasis on travel is reflected in the airport's budget, which shows Mangum has overspent his travel and training line item each of the past two fiscal years.

In 2003-04, Mangum spent $8,896 when only $1,500 was budgeted. Even after his limit increased to $4,950 last year, he broke his budget again by spending $9,359.

Mangum frequently travels to Monterey, Calif., for aviation conferences and meetings. The town paid $1,395 for his three-day stay at the Monterey Plaza Hotel in January 2004.

Mangum spent $1,308 during another six-day conference in Las Vegas in June 2004. One month later, the town paid $1,194 to send him to Sacramento, Calif., where he stayed five days for another conference.

Last January, Mangum took a $1,295 trip to Oakland, Calif., where he participated in an aviation accreditation class and attended another meeting. More recently, he took trips to Kansas City and Orlando, which cost the town well over $2,000.

Mangum spent about $1,000 for a three-day trip to Kansas City in October, staying at the Holiday Inn. He rented a car and charged meals and other items to his town credit card. Mangum said he flew out to meet with consultants who are helping the airport conduct a noise study and craft a new master plan - something he felt should be done in person.

He stayed in Orlando from Nov. 20 to Dec. 5, attending a conference that ended two days before he left. The town paid well over $1,000 for the trip, which allowed Mangum to stay near his alma mater, the Florida Institute of Technology, and a reliever airport outside Orlando, where he completed a summer internship while in college. Mangum said he attended a conference about air shows because he's hoping to bring some entertainment to Marana this year.

While many of the trips appear to be paying off tenfold, Mangum is still at the top of the list when it comes to Marana's biggest spenders. The airport's travel and training expenses since Mangum arrived in 2003 are more than double the amount spent by his predecessors in the previous two and a half years.

Mangum frequently uses his town-issued credit card for routine purchases, exceeding his credit limit by hundreds of dollars on several occasions. He started off slow, charging about $500 each month in 2003, but he's since charged an average of more than $1,500 each month in the past year.

Mangum works inside a large town office, where an aerial photo of Marana's airport hangs on his wall. Bank statements show he charged $224.67 for a custom frame at Michael's craft store before hanging the glossy print in August 2004.

More recently, he charged $221.57 to have a DirecTV "Total Choice" package with 155 digital-quality television channels hooked up to his office. The town is now paying the $42.97 monthly charge for service, which Mangum justified by saying he works late and wants to be able to watch the evening news when there are reports about his airport.

An invoice from August 2003 shows Mangum spent $358.57 for a metallic set of "Pegasus" pens from Myron.com, a Web site that totes itself as the leader in personalized business gifts. Mangum said the pens were promotional items featuring the airport's logo.

He charged another $832 to his card at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort and Spa last April, where he rented rooms for two days. The rooms allowed him to conduct interviews when hiring a consultant to help design a new airport terminal building, he said.

Mangum spent $1,139.71 making copies at Kinko's and shopping at Best Buy and Office Depot in November 2004. He chose to spend hundreds of dollars making copies at Kinko's instead of using copiers inside town hall because he was putting together a large packet of information for Marana council members, he said.

Other charges that show up on his credit card statements:

€ $386 for a digital zoom camera from Office Depot in December 2003, one of two digital cameras he's purchased in the last two years.

€ $187 during an August trip to Wal-Mart, where he bought a cooler, some soda and dozens of candy items ranging from cashews to M&Ms. He spent $16.96 on blueberry and banana nut muffins from Safeway the next day.

€ $6.50 during a stop at Choc-A-Lot in Tucson in February 2004.

€ $46 at Serrano's Mexican Restaurant in Mesa last July.

€ $56 at a gift shop in Phoenix to buy flowers for "Tammy" from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

€ $20 on several occasions for a car wash at the Ina Road Classic Car Spa.

€ $23 during an October trip to Wal-Mart, where he picked up a can of spray paint, some cookies and a bottle of Mountain Dew.

€ $37 at the Pottery Barn last April.

€ $27 at Blockbuster Video in Marana last October.

€ $120 at Tucson's Old Pueblo Grille in August 2003.

Mangum regularly eats at the Sky Rider Coffee Shop, located next to the town's airport, where he spent more than $150 during multiple visits last September. He's also stopped to eat at other places such as Popeye's Chicken, Nico's Mexican Food and Chili's Bar & Grill, where he spent $90 last June.

Mangum said he's aware his expenses might be high in comparison to other town officials, but he's tried to save money when he can. He's cut travel costs by purchasing tickets from Southwest Airlines - one of the cheapest options in airfare - and by staying in cheaper hotels when conferences are held at more ritzy resorts, he said.

Mangum thinks his expenses are justified by the improvements the airport has seen under his watch. He plans to continue traveling and seeking new grants to help the airport grow into a major industrial hub for Marana. A new terminal building and two-story steakhouse could be under construction later this year, and the town has plans to add another jet center in the near future.

"When you look at the amount of dollars we've been able to bring in to the airport and the things we've been able to accomplish over the last two years, a lot of that is due to a lot of this travel and training," Mangum said. "Networking with the FAA has been invaluable."

Editor's Note: Originally planned as a five-part series, the "It's on the Town" series has been reduced to four stories due to an unexpected staff change. Staff Writer Ryan Stanton has taken a job with a daily newspaper in Michigan near his home town. Ryan had to leave before the spending series was completed. The new Marana reporter, Eric Beidel, who starts next week, will review the series' notes and records and may complete the series, a story about travel and training in the town's police department, later this year.

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