First-class flight is near ethical violation

When City Manager George Kolb and Mayor Carl Brewer accepted first-class seats on a flight to Jacksonville last week, they came close to breaking the city’s own ethics policy. But the upgrades, which Brewer and Kolb insist they didn’t ask for, don’t have enough monetary value ($40 per upgrade) to break the rule, City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf said. What’s more, Rebenstorf said, is that to be a “gift,” they would have had to shown some sign of acceptance. Because they didn’t know about the upgrade until just before boarding, there was no acceptance, he said.

Rebenstorf said that although the city has paid AirTran to keep airfares low, the upgrades weren’t a conflict of interest either.

The city’s policy on gifts reads: “An occasional non-monetary gift of nominal value shall not be considered a gift, such as food at a reception generally open to employees or the public, so long as such a gift does not present any conflict of interest in fact or appearance. For purposes of this section “nominal value” shall mean having a value not exceeding $100 on any occasion, or from one person or entity in the aggregate during a consecutive 12 month period.”

Brewer criticized The Eagle in a letter to the editor Saturday for printing a story about City Manager George Kolb and Brewer getting first-class seats in their flight to Jacksonville, Fla. He called the column by Carrie Rengers a “a lapse in basic journalistic standards.”

Wrote Brewer: “Rengers seemed reluctant to emphasize that neither City Manager George Kolb nor I requested or expected preferential treatment. AirTran Airways officials, unbeknownst to us, assigned the business-class seating. It seemed neither prudent nor practical to interfere with the airline’s seating decisions.”