Crist's pricey trip gigs Enterprise Florida
Wake up and good morning. Charlie Crist, our sunny-side-of-life governor, may be taking the bulk of ridicule over the recent and opulent $430,000 tab for a trade mission to London, Paris, St. Petersburg (Russia) and Madrid budgeted at $255,000 -- just as the state budget headed for a $2-billion deficit. Here's a shot of Crist with fiancee Carole Rome and the Prince of Wales.
"Excessive spending, bad timing on European trade mission" headlines the Miami Herald opinion piece. "First-class junket an embarrassment" adds the Ocala Star-Banner. "Enough to make Palin Blush" gushes The Atlantic's Daily Dish. Opines a St. Petersburg Times editorial:
"Spending this kind of money and jetting around Europe with a large entourage always raises eyebrows, but it really sends the wrong message in tough economic times."
But it is Enterprise Florida, the economic development arm of the state of Florida, that's sustaining collateral damage for its role in setting up the overseas adventure. Enterprise Florida claims Florida corporations made $5.5-million in sales and "laid the groundwork" -- an ambiguous phrase at best -- for $96-million more in deals during the trip that could -- "potentially" -- translate into 2,245 new high-tech jobs.
At the Orlando Sentinel, columnist Scott Maxwell dissects the trade mission expense account that includes a photographer and nine bodyguards (most flew first class), plus Crist's own mini-bar and room service tab of $1,300 (yes, he traveled with his fiancee Carole Rome, and Rome's sister, Michele Oumano). Maxwell figures some of that mini-bar expense went to a couple of Red Bulls a day --"Gov. Peppy's caffeine-charged beverage of choice." Maxwell contacted The Westin Paris, where $1,385 a night not only gets you a lovely suite with a view of the Eiffel Tower but a hotel charge for each bottle of Red Bull of 10 euros. That's about $12 a pop. Writes Maxwell:
"I'm beginning to think someone should've explained to Gov. Good Times that 'free trade' didn't mean all the expenses were on the house."
In planning the trip, Manny Mencia of Enterprise Florida claimed that trip organizers "negotiated to the last cent," Maxwell reports, apparently including the $2,179 Crist spent each night for the Hilton London Metropole. Maxwell reminds us of Enterprise Florida's earlier role in allowing Nestle Corp. to cut a deal with the state government allowing it to take hundreds of millions of gallons of water every year for the next decade -- all for a $230 permit. Hence Maxwell's on-the-mark plea to Enterprise Florida:
"Promote. Advertise. Sit and look pretty at meetings. But we can't afford any more of your negotiations."
Just a reminder. Gov. Crist is the chairman of Enterprise Florida.
(Photo: Special to the St. Petersburg Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist