Mobile City Council President Gina Gregory attended two events hosted by her employer, Hargrove Engineers and Constructors, while attending the Farnborough International Airshow near London last month at taxpayer expense.
Gregory and the company’s owner Ralph Hargrove don’t deny that she attended the events, but both say she did so as a council representative and not a company representative.
Hargrove said the company hosted a welcome reception for airshow delegates on the first day of the airshow. He said his company hosted the event as a way to build relationships with Airbus suppliers and that Gregory attended with other delegates from the city.
The company also co-hosted a more formal dinner with three other companies, which Gregory also attended, but again, Hargrove said, as a city representative and not as a company employee. He said Gregory stayed in a different hotel from Hargrove employees, who took the trip on the company’s dime.
“Did she introduce me to some people I hadn’t met? Yes,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove said he feels it was completely appropriate for Gregory to attend the events, even if taxpayer money brought her to England because many other city and state representatives also attended.
“It’s OK because of the list of people who were there,” Hargrove said.
According to an April press release on the Hargrove website, Gregory was introduced as a “community affairs leader” for the engineering firm, working under Vice President of Relationship Building and Marketing Vicki Studstill. Before coming to Hargrove, Gregory spent eight years as the public relations director for a media group and had also served as spokeswoman for former Mayor Mike Dow.
Hargrove said this was the first event in which company employees and government officials attended, but the company hosts receptions at many other professional conferences.
“We’re going to go to those events and host dinners and receptions, just like our competitors would,” he said.
The firm has never paid Gregory’s way on trips in the past, Hargrove said and had discussions with Gregory before she came on board about what each party would have to do to avoid a conflict of interest, given her high-profile position on the council.
“We’re in a protection mode for her,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything to damage her reputation.”
The company isn’t privy to inside information because of Gregory’s employment, Hargrove said. He also called Gregory “honest.”
“If she had a reputation of giving us inside information, she wouldn’t be working here,” he said. “We haven’t needed that for any success.”
Hargrove said his company focuses mainly on heavy industrial work with paper mills, power plants and refineries. He said the company was aiming at work with Airbus and could help keep the plant “up and running.”
He said only about 4 percent of Hargrove’s business deals with buildings and infrastructure and municipal work is a smaller percentage of that figure.
“Our municipal work versus our heavy industrial work is like measuring a worm to a snake,” he said.
Hargrove said the company didn’t have any major city projects in the works, although the firm was doing some civil engineering work for the Mobile County School Board.
The company is not involved in the new I-10 bridge project because they don’t do “DOT work,” Hargrove said. The firm is also not involved in the McGowan Park retail development project.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Gregory, City Council Vice President Fred Richardson, Councilman C.J. Small, County Commission President Connie Hudson and Commissioner Jerry Carl were the elected officials who represented Mobile at the trade portion of the airshow, which took place from Monday, July 14 to Thursday, July 17.