07/19/06 — Wayne official defends ferry party

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Wayne official defends ferry party

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 19, 2006 1:54 PM

Wayne County Development Alliance President Joanna Thompson said she did attend a ferry reception for state and local officials during the Tall Ships Festival earlier this month, but she felt, and still does, that it was an opportunity to showcase the best of what eastern North Carolina has to offer.

"I don't feel remorse for going. I was working, and it was hot as blazes," Ms. Thompson said.

During the reception, Ms. Thompson said she was serving clients that could decide to move industries and new jobs to the area, which benefits all of eastern North Carolina.

Although fellow Alliance officials agree with Ms. Thompson that the ferry ride was a great opportunity to showcase development and tourism in the region, Alliance Chairman Charlie Gaylor said those in charge did not plan the event as well as they should have.

"The main problem with it is that it diverted the ferry from active service when the area had a lot of traffic," Gaylor said.

More than 100,000 people were in Beaufort throughout the first weekend of July for the Tall Ships event. A ferry was taken out of service to handle the reception, with a smaller ferry taking its place for use for tourists. That caused delays, officials said.

During the ferry ride and reception, Ms. Thompson said she was unaware of the delay on shore.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people on the boat had no idea that the boat was bigger than the one in its place. Perhaps we would've done something differently if we had known," Ms. Thompson said.

State and local officials were invited to a reception on the larger ferry. Attendees listened to a band, ate shrimp and scallops and drank wine and beer during the two-hour trip, which cost a total of more than $31,000.

Ms. Thompson said she didn't get the opportunity to enjoy the amenities.

"Me, like everyone that day -- we were working. It was nice to be able to go out there, but it was work," Ms. Thompson said.

North Carolina's Eastern Region, an organization that serves the economic development needs of 13 counties in eastern North Carolina, contributed $3,000 for tickets to the reception.

Albert Delia, the man chosen to be the Eastern Region's new chief executive officer following the resignation of former CEO Tom Greenwood, said he did not attend the reception and he is not aware of any other Eastern Region board members who did. The organization did contribute to the event, he said.

Eastern Region spent $25,000 to sponsor the Tall Ships event and, Delia said, another $3,000 was later contributed for the economic development officials' reception.

Delia said the $3,000 was used to buy 20 first-come, first-served tickets to the reception. The tickets were available to the economic development executives of the 13 counties in the Eastern Region and any potential clients interested in locating industries to those areas. Those counties include Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Greene, Duplin, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico, Edgecombe, Wilson, Nash, Pitt and Carteret.

When asked if the $3,000 provided by North Carolina's Eastern Region completely covered the costs of entertaining the Wayne County Development Alliance officials, any Eastern Region officials and their clients without any additional burden on taxpayers, Eastern Region Treasurer Jack Best, who also serves as a Wayne County commissioner, refused to answer the question.

He did respond by saying, "That's old news, buddy. You need to find a new subject" and "why beat a dead horse to the ground? It's already dead."

Although Ms. Thompson said she thinks the event could have been handled differently that day, she added that is what people usually discover when looking back on an event.

"Hindsight always provides an opportunity that you didn't have," Ms. Thompson said.

But she said that she wants people to understand that no one was intentionally trying to use taxpayers' money for any purpose other than showcasing the region.

"The folks there weren't there to take advantage of anybody or anything. They were invited guests. As invited guests, you don't ask questions. You mingle and show people the best of eastern North Carolina," Ms. Thompson said.