07/25/06 — Payback time: Governor made right decision to demand nearly $4,000 repaid

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Payback time: Governor made right decision to demand nearly $4,000 repaid

Gov. Mike Easley sent a memo Monday to those who helped arrange a recent version of the “three-hour tour” at the Tall Ships event.

It was an event that seemed to be as doomed to criticism and failure as Gilligan’s original private boat tour in the famed TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”

Those who went on the ferry’s catered and entertainment-laden cruise, seemed to end up stranded on an island of criticism for what some say was simply a perk with little value for the future of North Carolina.

Easley wants the Ports Authority to pay back more than $4,000 in taxpayer funds used to pay the costs of a state-owned ferry that was used by bigwigs from around the state and their guests allegedly to promote economic development in the state.

The ferry, which would have been used to assist with transportation of visitors at the Tall Ships event, was instead, out of service, leaving many regular people out of luck as they tried to get closer to the visiting ships.

The value of such a tour is still in question — especially for those whose counties are more than a hour from the coast that was featured. Those who used the ferry have said that the tour gave potential industrial clients a look at what the state has to offer. That incentive, they said, might be the push a waffling client might need to choose the state for its new plant or expansion.

Perhaps, but the jury is still out.

Also among Easley’s directives was the determination that there needs to be a policy directing future endeavors of this sort — and what can and cannot be paid for with taxpayer funds.

And that, even more so than the demand that the money be returned, is the good that is going to come out of the whole Tall Ships question.

There does need to be a list of guidelines for what can and cannot be purchased with money that comes from taxpayers, as well as an absolute watchdog-like scrutiny over the use of state funds, period. It all goes back to making government accountable to its bosses — us.

The Tall Ships tour is not a gargantuan waste of taxpayer dollars, and there might be some as yet unproven value to making this sort of a trip.

But by making sure those who control the state’s pursestrings know that there are limits and standards by which they must abide — and keeping a close eye to make sure they meet those demands — we just might prevent abuses that have occurred elsewhere, like a $25,000 toilet seat or a taxpayer-funded junket that might serve the needs of officials, but not citizens.

So, the Tall Ships fiasco is a minor swell that a little attention can keep from becoming a full-fledged typhoon.

We will see if the new rules have the desired effect.

Published in Editorials on July 25, 2006 12:42 PM