Local Politics

Wake probe asks who knew about trips

Posted July 16, 2008 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated July 16, 2008 7:09 p.m. EDT

— Wake County officials are trying to figure out who knew how much about a series of questionable trips organized by a former recycling coordinator.

"I think there's other people might be at fault. It's the level of fault that might be assigned to them – that's the questionable part," County Commissioner Tony Gurley said Wednesday.

Two employees with the Environmental Services Department's Solid Waste Management Division have lost their jobs since county officials found then-recycling coordinator Craig Wittig took 46 trips to the coast of Maine for whale watching, Disney World and Las Vegas.

Upon the discovery, officials fired Wittig, who said the trips were for research.
Last week, Jim Reynolds, the solid waste facilities manager, resigned after being on administrative leave in the wake of the discovery. Receipts show he signed off on most of the trips Wittig took.

Three other employees have also left the division as a result.

All the trips were approved, and county officials are trying to determine who else might have known about them.

County officials say senior manager Tommy Esqueda's signature is on one trip in question, but that he did not approve any others.

Commissioners call the trips a waste of county funds.

"I think it's certainly embarrassing," Gurley said. "But I think it gives an opportunity for the county to step up and make sure this doesn't happen again."

As a result, the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of an audit of all county departments for the past year and the Environmental Services Department for the past two years.

County commissioners are also looking for ways to increase public trust about county spending, including one suggestion to put expense reports online for the public to see.

Because the questionable trips were approved, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said it is still unclear if the case could rise to a criminal level.

"The difference between fraud and bad stewardship often is in someone's intent – whether or not there is a misrepresentation or deceit in what they were doing," Willoughby said.