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Rotten Apple Junketeers

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After having to scrap their trip earlier this year to London, a gaggle of elected officials and GovCo staffers from Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are off this week taking a bite out of the Big Apple, and lifting a chunk of change from the taxpayers’ pocket in the process, as part of the Charlotte Chamber’s annual inter-city visit.

The cost of the three-day junket to New York City, which is also being attended by local business leaders and community movers-and-shakers, runs $3,095 a pop, with elected officials receiving a $200 discount, according to Chamber spokesperson Natalie Dick. Some elected officials and government staffers pay for the trip out-of-pocket, Dick said, but couldn’t confirm if any of the ones making this year’s trip (18 in all, according to the Chamber) were doing so. WSOC ran down a few and found – surprise – that taxpayers were picking up the tab for all but one of the officials they contacted.

So for simplicity sakes, let’s figure a majority of the assorted GovCo crew is following suit, which would be par for the course from previous years. That would put the tab for taxpayers at about $52,000, give or take a few thousand. Which, granted, is a drop in the bucket considering the multi-billion dollar budgets of local government.

But that’s missing the point. The real hit to taxpayers doesn’t come from shelling out thousands of dollars for somebody else’s plane tickets, swank hotel accommodations and fancy meals. The big hit comes down the line, when those same elected officials and government staffers return with heads chock full of nifty and grand new ways to spend truly copious amounts of your money.

Case in point: former transit czar Ron Tober landed in the Queen City courtesy of a previous inter-city junket, sending Charlotte speeding down the half-billion-dollar-and-still-counting tracks to light rail oblivion.

This year’s junketeers, meanwhile, are staying busy swooning and drooling over the new $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL’s Giants and Jets, as Charlotte City Council is getting ready to negotiate (sic) the possibility of using tax dollars to help the Panthers renovate Bailout Stadium.

Also on tap for this year’s inter-city trip was a tour of New York’s Brooklyn borough, home to a recent a $3 billion revitalization, largely from the always popular private/public partnerships, code for subsidizing development with your tax dollars. This from News 14:

Charlotte leaders believe the Queen City can mimic Brooklyn’s growth; especially with how it utilizes its cultural facilities.

“The learning that you have here in Brooklyn, about how to do arts, that instead of doing art as a standalone, figure out who to do all aspects of it, together with academia and entrepreneurial, and I’ll call it traditional business,” said Charlotte Chamber member Frank Emory.

Brooklyn’s revitalization was the focus for Tuesday’s visit.

“The collaboration of public private development partnership has been central, to I think, the success of downtown Brooklyn,” said Brooklyn developer Mary Anne Gilmartin.

The trips give insight for what can be mimicked and expanded upon in Charlotte, especially Uptown.

“[It is] kind of confirmation that we got some things right, that we’re working on, the public private partnership is clearly the way to go,” said Emory.

Read between the lines and you can practically hear Center City Partners godfather Michael Smith weeping in joy and rapture.

Fifty-two thousand dollars for a NYC junket? Chump change.

But just for the record, all aboard for this year’s trip, which ran Tuesday through Thursday, are Mayor Anthony Foxx, councilmembers (Democrats one and all) John Autry, Michael Barnes, Patrick Cannon, David Howard, LaWana Mayfield and Patsy Kinsey; Commissioners Chairman Harold Cogdell and Commissioner Dumont Clarke; CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison and school board member Eric Davis; Assistant City Manager Ruffin Hall and Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble; Center City Partners boss Michael Smith; Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority chief Tom Murray; Scott Provanche with the Arts and Science Council; Joel Ford with the Charlotte Housing Authority; and Mohammad Jenatian with the Great Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance.

Grab your wallet, citizen; just as surely as our fearless GovCo junketeers are taking a bite out of the Big Apple, they’re already dreaming up new ways to take the same from your bottom line.

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