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Easley Demands Ports Authority Repay Money Used For Ferry Party

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley demanded Monday that the state's Ports Authority repay nearly $4,000 of taxpayer money used to make a state ferry available for an invitation-only boat party during a sailing festival.

"I want to be crystal clear with you: this type of activity should not ever occur again," Easley wrote in a letter to Ports Authority officials. "State agencies and their employees are stewards of the public's money and trust and our actions should reflect the highest of standards."

The cruise gave about 200 passengers -- including Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and other elected lawmakers -- an up-close view of the Tall Ships Festival in Beaufort and Morehead City on July 1. While officials dined on seafood and enjoyed the music of a steel drum band, others fought crowds and congestion.

The ferry was replaced on its route by a smaller ship, leading to delays for passengers trying to cross the river.

"It is absolutely indefensible that a ferry was taken out of service to transport dignitaries while the general public battled traffic and stood in stifling heat for hours to get a glimpse of the ships," Easley wrote.

Easley found that the Ports Authority, which is a state agency but runs on its own revenue, paid almost $25,000 out of its budget to host the event. The Department of Transportation added about $3,800, which is taxpayer money.

Most of the $3,800 was used for paint and cleaning supplies to renovate the Floyd Lupton, additional staffing and personnel to cover the costs of two ships, fuel and a photographer to document the event, said DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca.

"To cover the costs borne by the taxpayers, I am directing the State Ports Authority to reimburse the Department of Transportation for the costs of using the ferry," Easley wrote.

The Ports Authority used the event as a promotional tool for the state's coastal region.

"If we don't blow our horn about the things that are positive out here, we're left in the cold," said Ann Carter, mayor of Beaufort. "You can take the same amount of money to pay an advertising agency to come up with a slick brochure, but the most positive way to promote anything is to have it eyeball-to-eyeball.

"If this was not appropriate, it should have been caught months ago while it was being planned."

Some event attendees, including Marshall, have offered to repay the state for the party, but Easley excused them of responsibility. Easley was also invited, but did not attend.

"The N.C. State Ports Authority will probably comply with the governor's directive and work with his staff to develop the new guidelines," said Ports Authority spokeswoman Karen Fox.

Easley's letter was addressed to Carl Stewart, chairman of the Ports Authority; Tom Eagar, the division's CEO; and Lyndo Tippett, the state's secretary of transportation.

"This type of conduct creates cynicism and shakes the confidence of the public in their government," Easley wrote.

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