Hilton Head mayor defends spending almost $17,000 on town-funded trip

Hilton Head mayor defends spending almost $17,000 on town-funded trip
Hilton Head Island leaders in Italy. Photo Source: Town of Hilton Head Island (Source: Town of Hilton Head Island)

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WTOC) - The Hilton Head mayor and town manager are back from a trip to Italy. They said it creates a new partnership with a city half a world away to share in tourism, economic development, and education opportunities.

But is it a good use of taxpayer dollars?

The trip cost taxpayers $16,665.21, according to documents WTOC got in a Freedom of Information request. The mayor spent $5,368.23 on airfare, $2019.31 on a hotel, and $228.59 on food. He did reimburse the city $2,019.31 for his daughter’s portion of the $4,038 hotel room.

The town manager and his wife’s flights cost $3,421.86. Their 9-night hotel stay cost taxpayers $5,076.22. Other expenses like parking, travel insurance, and random expenses cost $551.

Below is a copy of some of the expense reports from the mayor and town manager:

Per the town manager’s contract with the town, his wife is allowed to travel with him when her presence “is expected or is in the town’s interest."

The mayor said the trip, which included an opera and wine tastings, was the best investment the town has made in a long time.

But not everyone agrees. Some people voiced concern over the trip at the most recent council meeting. After all, the distance from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to Verona, Italy is more than 4700 miles.

WTOC asked the mayor what benefit there is to partnering with a city or town half a world away.

“What benefit is it though to partner with a city or town half a world away that takes years to develop? What real benefit is that?” asked WTOC.

“The other half of the world should know about us. We should know more about the other part of the world,” Mayor John McCann said. “There will be commerce, education, culture, it will just take time to do it.”

The mayor didn’t give specifics on what the benefits are. He says a group from Verona will come over later this year to discuss more. When pressed, he said it could be years before tangible results come out of this relationship.

“Nothing will happen between now and next year,” said McCann. “This doesn’t happen overnight.”

“You wouldn’t qualify this by any means as a pleasure trip? This was strictly a business trip?” asked WTOC.

“God no,” said McCann. “It was a business trip. It was an enjoyable business trip, but it was a business trip.”

The itinerary for the trip included wine tastings and an opera:

To be clear, the town charter and town manager’s contract cover the travel expenses. The mayor’s daughter also went. According to records obtained by WTOC, the town did not pay for her trip.

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