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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

FOI at Work: NC First Lady Travels Well...

North Carolina's first lady, Mary Easley, visited some of the finest museums in France and St. Petersburg, Russia, during the past 14 months. She and entourages dined at first-class restaurants, slept in top-notch hotels and sat in the fifth row for a Russian ballet. The travels -- a 2007 trip to France and one to Russia and Estonia in May -- cost taxpayers $109,000.

Gov. Mike Easley did not go on either trip, and neither was publicly disclosed at the time. Mary Easley did not respond to requests for an interview, but expense reports and other documents released in response to a public records request indicate the trips were considered cultural exchanges to build links between North Carolina and officials in the countries visited. The trips have so far produced no tangible benefits.

In May 2007, Mary Easley and an executive assistant traveled to Paris and Compiegne, France, "to see the ambassador and to visit major museums for sister city cultural arts" exchanges, according to the expense report filed with the state.

Once there, Easley had a round-the-clock chauffeured Mercedes-Benz that cost taxpayers more than $27,000. Taxpayers paid another $8,900 for Easley, her executive assistant and a state trooper -- along for security -- to stay in a hotel and participate in a Monet-themed tour. The trip was five months after the Monet exhibit closed at the N.C. Museum of Art.

More here.

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