Wake administrator fired for questionable travel

July 8, 2008 2:10:23 PM PDT
A Wake County administrator has been fired and his supervisor demoted after an internal review of questionable travel expenses that included whale-watching off the Maine coast and four visits to Disney World.

"We went out to the world and looked at world class programs, tried to bring them back to Wake County," Craig Witting, former recycling program manager, said.

He took at least 50 trips, some with his family, between his hiring in April 2004 and when his employment ended June 3. Trips included Vegas, Yellowstone and Arcadia National Park in Maine.

While in Maine, Wittig, four staffers and a dozen Wake County teachers also went whale watching.

"We did that with enterprise fund money from landfill tipping fees that were generated by the landfill that the county owns," Wittig said.

Wittig says the $160,000 he spent on trips, a GPS system and parkas wasn't taxpayer money. But his former boss, Wake County Manager David Cooke, disagrees.

"It is money that comes to us through fees and charges that taxpayers are paying," Cooke said.

Cooke fired Wittig and called the spending inappropriate.

"I'm just angry because I think it reflects badly on an organization that's trying to do good," Cook said.

County records show Wittig's boss, solid waste management director James S. Reynolds, was demoted last month, but will remain on the payroll earning $94,973 annually.

Cooke is also angry about four trips to Disney World that Wittig took his employees, his wife and children on.

Wittig says he never charged any of his family's expenses to the county and drove his personal car.

The purpose of the trips was to learn from Disney's world class recycling program.

"I spent more than eight hours a day every day that I was there working with the [staff], taking behind the scenes tours working with educators from Disney," Wittig said.

Officials will not say how much of the $160,000 was spent inappropriately.

Wittig says some of what he learned, like how to institute an electronics recycling program, is saving the county much more than $160,000.

"We saved the county $280,000 this year from a contract switch that I put in place and initiated," Wittig said.

Wittig can appeal his hiring but won't say whether he has plans to do so.

Accord to the News & Observer, the five employees Wittig supervised also went on some outings. Collectively, the government workers charged $161,233 to credit cards issued by Wake County and paid for with public money.


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