Taxpayers paid for Commissioner's trip to Boston Red Sox game
LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A Lee County commissioner coming under fire for attending a Boston Red Sox game on your dime and this was *after* he lost the primary election. Commissioner Ray Judah doesn't want to talk about that trip but today Four in your Corner Investigator Mike Mason caught up with him.
After 24 years...Ray Judah is the longest serving commissioner in Lee County's history. This year he was once again seeking re-election but last month he lost the primary, .but that didn't stop him from spending your tax dollars....and we wanted to know why.
You may not know it but last month you spent thousands of dollars sending two Lee County officials to a Boston Red Sox game and you shelled out even more to pay for their hotels and thousands of these little seashell necklaces. But when we asked outgoing commissioner Ray Judah about that trip, he clammed up.
Ray Judah: "Well, I've got a meeting to get to, you'll have to ask the question later."
Mike Mason: "Well, I'll ask you on your way to the chambers."
Ray Judah: "No you won't."
Mike Mason: "Can I ask you about your trip to Fenway?"
Ray Judah: "You can look into it."
Mike Mason: "I already did. We'd like to ask you about your trip to Fenway."
Ray Judah: "You'll have to make an appointment."
On August 25th, less than 2 weeks after losing the primary election, Judah flew to Boston to attend a Red Sox game and represent Lee County's tourism industry. Taxpayers footed the bill.
Paige Rausch: "I don't see that as an expense that Lee County's going to have a gain from that we can justify, no."
Paige Rausch is a concerned citizen who keeps a close eye on county government. While in Boston, Judah attended an event called 'Lee County Day at Fenway'. It's the third year the Red Sox have hosted the event. This comes after Lee County decided to build Jetblue Park so the Sox could have a new Spring Training facility. That alone cost Lee County nearly $78 million dollars.
Rausch says Judah had no right spending tax dollars on this trip when his term ends in just 2 months. She feels Judah's judgment is off in left field.
Paige Rausch: "It would have been nice to have a person who is going to be a consistent face of Lee County rather than an outgoing commissioner."
Records show Judah used a county credit card and spent a total of $971 on his trip to Boston. And he wasn't the only one there spending your tax dollars. Executive Director of Lee County's Visitor and Convention Bureau, Tamara Pigott, also attended.
In this photo provided by a Lee County resident who attended the game.....you can see both Pigott and Judah featured on the jumbo screen at Fenway Park. Records show they both stayed at the Boston Marriott for two nights - each paying $209 per night. Pigott then transferred to the Westin hotel, staying an additional 3 nights, so she could attend a tourism marketing conference that was also taking place in Boston. The room at the Westin cost $297 per night. So the two spent a total of 17-hundred dollars in hotel fees alone.
Pigott says the conference will benefit Lee County but some question if it's really worth it.
Larry Kiker: "We should be looking at every penny we've got. We're literally talking about 30 to 40 million dollars that we're upside down every year."
Larry Kiker recently beat Judah in the primary election. In these tough economic times, he feels county employees should stick to home base....and travelling should only be done when it's absolutely necessary.
Larry Kiker: "Any trips that we have that is not directly related to doing business or moving the ball forward, if you will, if there's any doubt whatsoever I think that is criteria enough to be looked at."
And Fox 4 found Lee County taxpayers also spent thousands on shell necklaces, as a way to promote tourism. You can see fans at Fenway wearing them in this photo provided by Pigott. The county purchased 15,000 necklaces at 41 cents a piece. So taxpayers spent more than $6,000 to give Sox fans some souvenirs.
Paige Rausch: "During a time when we're cutting Human Services and we're now cutting things to the bone I can't really say that I can justify handing out shell necklaces."
Commissioner Frank Mann says board chairman John Manning is the one who should have gone to Boston to represent Lee County, since that has always been the protocol. Manning, however, told us he wasn't able to attend this year but he doesn't know who asked Judah to go in his place. That doesn't make much sense to Frank Mann.
Frank Mann: "The likelihood of me being here for another term is far better of course than Ray, who has been defeated outright, I would have probably considered going."
So who told Judah he could go? We tried asking him directly but he refused to talk about it.
Mike Mason: "So we can't ask you any questions about Fenway?"
Ray Judah: "I have a meeting coming up Mike, be respectful of that. You can ask me questions about Fenway at another time.”
County manager Karen Hawes authorized the expenses for both Judah and Pigott. We asked her if she's the one who asked Judah to attend 'Lee County Day at Fenway' but we are still waiting to hear back.