Local News

Questionable trips produced uneven recycling results

Posted July 2, 2008 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2008 9:13 p.m. EDT

— Wake County's recycling efforts have improved in recent years, but it's unclear whether dozens of taxpayer-funded trips taken by a county employee fired last month for questionable travel were the reason for the gains.

Craig P. Wittig was fired June 3 as the county Solid Waste Management Division's recycling program manager after county officials found out he had taken at least 46 trips since he was hired in February 2006. The trips included whale-watching off the coast of Maine, four ventures to Disney World and a trip to a Las Vegas hotel.

Wittig said the trips were efforts to research environmental programs in other parts of the country so that Wake County could develop a state-of-the-art recycling program.

"A lot of things that are new and innovative, you have to travel to find examples in the world to bring back to Wake County," Wittig told WRAL last week.

Some of his trips were for conferences, but others were approved without a work-related purpose. Overall, recycling is up in Wake County since he started in his job, but the impact of his work is uneven:

  • Wittig said the highlight of his two years on the job was finding a new company that pays the county for discarded electronics, which he said saves more than $200,000 a year. County officials said finding the vendor was a team effort.
  • "Feed the Bin" recycling programs are local schools have grown by more than 40 percent since 2005, but more than 12 schools have been built in that time.
  • Wittig also worked on a pilot litter enforcement program in which off-duty Wake County deputies were paid overtime to patrol area roads plagued by littering. Six citations were issued by deputies in the program from January to March.
  • Recycling in the county increased by 9 percent in the last two years, from 44,163 tons to 48, 323 tons, outpacing the county's 5 percent population growth.

Seven employees in the Solid Waste Management Division, including Wittig, charged $165,165 to credit cards issued by Wake County – they are paid for with public money – between April 2006 and last month, according to county records.

Wittig's expenses for outdoor gear, books, the whale-watching tour and Disney World park passes have been labeled inappropriate.

County Manager David Cooke has asked all department heads to review employees' travel expenses, and he plans to recommend hiring an independent auditor to look at all county credit card charges.

Some county commissioners have called for other employees to be fired in the case, but Cooke said he is still reviewing the case to determine whether other disciplinary action is warranted.