TARPON SPRINGS — Before Mayor Beverley Billiris and City Commissioner Robin Saenger embarked on an economic and cultural mission to China earlier this month, the mayor made one thing clear:
"It's a phenomenal opportunity for us to showcase our city at no expense to our government," Billiris told fellow commissioners. "Not a penny of this is coming out of the city of Tarpon Springs' budget."
But it turns out that wasn't exactly the case.
On July 8, Billiris and Saenger traveled to Tunxi, an old town located in the Yellow Mountains of Anhui Province, for a conference at which they were promoting Tarpon Springs and Pinellas County. The trip was paid for by Tunxi officials. Billiris and Saenger spent about two weeks in China.
But on July 1, they had a package of promotional material sent ahead. It weighed 14 pounds and cost the city $95.25 to ship.
The materials included brochures about Tarpon Springs, Brooker Creek Preserve, St. Petersburg College and other sites of local interest.
"She (Billiris) said absolutely no city money, so actually that statement wasn't true," Commissioner Peter Dalacos said.
"For her to go as far as to say that not a penny of city money was spent … she had to know about it, so it wasn't a true statement."
Back from the trip, Billiris is astonished that such a small amount would be questioned. She said she ships promotional materials to other areas all the time and she would have made the shipment regardless of whether she went to China or not.
"I think it's absurd," Billiris said.
"We are promoting Pinellas County and Tarpon Springs and somebody is actually complaining about $95? I think it's an absurdity that it's being questioned."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at email@example.com (727) 445-4174.