Governor says DOT trips will end

March 6, 2009 3:16:41 PM PST
Governor Perdue says she watched an Eyewitness News investigative report Thursday that exposed how the Department of Transportation paid for two conferences at the Hilton Riverside hotel in Wilmington.Our undercover cameras showed how taxpayers picked up the tab for fancy hotel rooms and free meals.

We asked the Governor if she thought it was an appropriate use of public money when the state faces a budget shortfall that could reach $3.5 billion.

"Well my take on it, and I knew that that was going to go on, you know I have a hiring freeze and I have a travel freeze in place and the contract for that event was signed before this administration became governor," said Perdue.

The DOT said the hotel was going to charge taxpayers $62,000 to cancel the conference. Instead, it says it negotiated to pay $10,000 less to go ahead with the conference we filmed and another one next week.

"As the DOT, the new leader, Secretary Conti, as they looked at the cost, it would have cost more to cancel, and so I said keep going on this one. They know they can't do any more," Perdue explained.

Perdue said the upcoming conference next week will be the last one.

The investigative report generated plenty of comments from the public. One person wrote on ABC11.com "This is an excellent story how the State/DOT is wasting taxpayer's money."

But some weren't so positive - claiming it was money well spent.

"If they attended, and it was for educational purposes to improve their profession, then I as a taxpayer appreciate they went and hopefully obtained information that would help improve the DOT," said another writer.

Perdue had her own take on the report.

"I saw the piece. It was okay. You know, they must have done a lot of renovations on the Hilton down there," she said with a smile.

Renovations that another 140 DOT employees will enjoy for three days next week.

The DOT said it cut the cost of the conference by lowering the number of employees who could attend and by having vendors pick up the cost of some food. The hotel said it would not discuss the details of the contract, but did say that cancellation fees never exceed the total value of any conference.

The hotel also pointed out that the conference helped it pay employees who've been hit hard by the downtown in tourism as the economy has worsened.


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