Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport Stops Advertising Over Bad Press

PITTSTON TWP. - The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport stopped advertising with the Times Leader over the newspaper's coverage of a controversial plan to switch banks.

An advertising sales representative for the newspaper said the airport's marketing director, Eric McKitish, indicated ads for low-cost carrier Hooters Air, which is starting service in October were stopped because of the coverage.

Airport board chairman and Luzerne County Commissioner Todd Vonderheid said he will bring the advertising issue up at the board's next meeting.

Stephen Morris, the Times Leader ad representative, said McKitish informed him during a phone call last week that the airport is "going to run some ads, but not going to run them in the Times Leader."

McKitish did not return a message left Tuesday.

The airport's last ad for Hooters ran in the Times Leader on Aug. 28.

"They didn't kill an ad. We just never got beyond the first one," said Morris on Wednesday.

But the airport has committed to running ads for Hooters Air in Times Leader community publications. An ad ran Wednesday in The Weekender.

Airport director Barry Centini said the airport has not pulled its advertising from the Times Leader.

"That doesn't mean that we'll use them every time," he said last week. "We'll use them when we want to."

The airport is looking toward spending more on television advertising, Centini said.

The newspaper reported the board apparently violated the state's Sunshine law by not approving the switch in a public meeting.

The board, which is made up of the six commissioners from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, did not vote on the deal that would have transferred millions of dollars of business from Wachovia to Landmark Community Bank of Pittston. Airport board vice chairman and Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, one of the bank founders, is a shareholder and director of the bank.

Cordaro said he first learned of the plan to switch banks while meeting in Centini's office prior to board's Aug. 18 public meeting. The board members were asked to sign signature cards in order to endorse bank checks. An airport solicitor said the switch was an administrative decision that did not require a board vote.

It was during that meeting Cordaro said he informed the board of his role with the bank. But the newspaper reported Cordaro failed to disclose his bank directorship on a form filed with the state Ethics Commission. Cordaro explained he did not report his position because it did not surpass the income threshold for reporting it. However, an ethics commission official said bank directorships must be reported.

In a story published Aug. 30, Vonderheid acknowledged the decision to switch should have been done with board approval at a public meeting. He said that he would ask the airport staff to seek request for proposals for the bank business at the board's next meeting later this month.

Vonderheid said Wednesday he was not aware of the airport's decision to stop advertising with the Times Leader. Just like with the bank issue, he said he would bring it for discussion at the next meeting.

"That's just not my style," he said of the decision to stop the ads because of the coverage. "It's not the way to do business."

The airport must use its advertising dollars in the best possible way to increase the number of people boarding planes there, he added.

Advertising dollars can't be used to determine coverage because, he said, "I don't believe it ever works."

Morris said that during a phone call he told McKitish that as an ad rep he has no control over the editorial content of the newspaper. Morris said he suggested that Centini call Matt Golas, Times Leader editor and executive vice president, to discuss the news coverage.

Morris said McKitish indicated that would not happen because it would appear "that we have something to defend."

Golas said he has not been contacted by Centini.

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