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Bad timing for Oakland port president’s spending revelations

Bad timing for Oakland port presidentÆs spending revelations

The president of the Oakland port's seven-member governing board has spent more than $133,000 on travel, entertainment and meals during her eight-year tenure on the board, according to public records obtained by Bay Area Fox affiliate KTVU.

   According to the TV station's investigation, Darlene Ayers-Johnson racked up first-class airfares, luxury hotel bookings — some near her own home — limousine rides, expensive meals and high-end gifts such as Broadway show tickets for her husband and $4,000 for football caps during her tenure.

   Despite the public records including Ayers-Johnson credit card bills, signed expense reports and receipts, the commissioner challenged the accuracy of the public documents. 'I have nothing to apologize for,' Ayers-Johnson told the TV station.

   The revelations come at a worrisome financial juncture for the port, California's third-busiest.

   The port authority announced in May it is 'facing a number of serious issues and challenges in developing its operating budget for fiscal year 2009.'

   Revised port authority revenue projections were lower than originally projected, according to the documents, with significant additional expenses being incurred by the port for environmental remediation including air quality and truck replacement programs.

   In order to absorb the additional costs, maintain the current level of infrastructure maintenance and improvements, and move forward to produce an acceptable debt service coverage ratio, port officials identified the need to cut about $18.6 million from the fiscal year 2009 budget.

   The port sent layoff notices to some 60 port authority employees in August, although it is unclear if this is all of the layoffs. Port officials said the job cuts, which also include leaving an additional 38 positions unfilled, would save the port close to $14 million per year.

   Ayers-Johnson's term expires later this year and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums must take up the issue of either reappointing her or finding another candidate to take her place.

   When accepting her election by the board to the position of president in July, Ayers-Johnson told port staff she would make every effort to ensure that as commissioners, '' we carefully weigh each issue and commit to making decisions that will always be in the best interest of the port and the citizens of Oakland.'

   Ayers-Johnson, a principal of her own consulting firm, was named to her first four-year term on the commission in July 2000 and reappointed to a second term in 2004. Oakland port commissioners are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Commissioners serve without salary or compensation.

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