Questions loom over Easley's pricey trip


The Democratic governor, his wife and a dozen others made the nine-day trip in April to recruit businesses to /*North Carolina*/ and promote the state as a tourist destination.

The governor required a chauffeured car because of security concerns, said Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Bryan Beatty, whose agency handles /*Easley*/'s security. When Easley goes to other states, his security team can count on local police to help with security, Beatty said.

"The governor, to us, is very important. But in Italy you don't know how they will perceive him," Beatty said. "We want to make sure we're familiar with the transportation we'll be getting. The cost is what it is. We obviously don't want to request anything that's not needed."

Although the expense tally isn't yet complete, bills that were provided after the newspaper made a public records request showed expenses such as $700 for lunch for eight in Rome and $590 for two nights in hotels in Florence. It cost the state $2,249 to put Easley up for three nights in Venice.

The $61,000 invoice for the S-class sedan identified the Easleys as "Governor Easley and Lady Easley." The state also paid $23,584 for a van or bus for the rest of the delegation. First-class airline tickets for the governor and his wife cost $19,500.

The newspaper said expenses still weren't in for the Easley's security team or for the head of the state commerce department.

Commerce Secretary Joe Fain said the trip was a success. Officials say they have six promising leads on new or expanding businesses. They said two stories also were run in Italian publications about North Carolina as an attractive tourist destination.

Fain said the trip would pay for itself if one or two businesses moved to the state.

The Governor's office released the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"The Department of Commerce planned the economic development mission to Italy with two goals: to bring Italian businesses to North Carolina, and to promote North Carolina as a tourism destination. The Department does numerous similar trips every year and Sec. Fain invited the Governor to go on this one. Obviously, having a head of state on such a trip carries more weight with business officials and the tourism industry. As a result of the Governor's economic development mission to Italy, about half a dozen companies have indicated that they may locate in North Carolina. And several articles have been published in Italian media (Commerce has these) of the Governor promoting North Carolina as a travel/vacation destination. Many of the Italian travel and tourism operators the Governor spoke to will be in the US this year, and his visit helped to set the stage for our potential entry into this new market."

Officials said the cost was partly the result of a weak dollar and that four years ago the Florence hotel bill would have been $160 less.

During the trip, the state delegation toured a winery. They also met with business leaders and Easley was scheduled to mingle for 25 minutes at a meeting of reporters and travel agents.

Fain said Easley was a necessary presence on the trip because he attracted business leaders, reporters and officials.

/*Eyewitness News*/ will have more on the Governor's trip at 5 p.m., including reaction from Easley's staff.

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