PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long is on the road again.
Long is in Washington D.C. Thursday for a White House tour, a briefing by Trump Administration officials at the nearby Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a post-conference reception and if she’s really lucky, maybe even an unscheduled photo-op with President Trump himself. And sometime after it’s all over, you’ll get the bill. “I hope to make the folks we talk to there very aware of the most important issues in Florida that are being worked on right now in Congress,” Long said Tuesday.
This week’s Washington D.C. visit marks the twelfth trip on county business Long has taken courtesy of taxpayers, and far from the most expensive. Since 2014, Long’s travels on the taxpayer dime have taken her to Berlin, London, Toronto, New Orleans, Amelia Island and Ponte Vedra Beach among other destinations at a total cost of $18,399. Long says most of her domestic trips are due to her role on the board of the Florida Association of Counties.”I try very hard to make all of their conferences they have,their board of directors meetings specifically,” Long said.
The international trips to travel conventions–London last year and Berlin this year–are part of Long’s efforts to champion local tourism as the Chair of the Pinellas Tourism Development Council.”That’s where you go to talk to all the travel agents around the world that are representing Visit Florida and specifically Tampa Bay,” Long said. “So I was there to talk to them personally why they should come to Pinellas County instead of–if you can believe it– our biggest competitor Dubai.”
Altogether, Long’s two European trips cost $8500 financed with local bed taxes. So what’s the payback for the public? Long says her participation in The ITB Berlin Convention and World Travel Show in London generated record-breaking tourism for Pinellas. “The return on investment of those trips was 10 billion–billion with a “B” to the economy in Pinellas County,” Long told Eight on Your Side.”I’d say that’s a pretty damn good investment wouldn’t you.” Long later conceded her presence alone in Berlin did not stimulate $10 billion in tourism for Pinellas but Long believes she played a key role in the trade show’s professional delegation staffed by members of Visit St.Petersburg/Clearwater. “Because I am the highest elected official in Pinellas County,” Long said.
Long explained the Toronto trip she took last year involved going to a Blue Jays game and meeting with front office executives about building new Spring Training facilities in Dunedin.
Our investigation shows Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice has also traveled to Berlin, London and Toronto. His travel bills add up to more than $20,000. Commissioner Morroni has been to Berlin and Commissioner Seel traveled to Los Angeles a few years ago for the premiere of the movie “Dolphin Tale” — all in the name of taxpayers and paid for with your bed tax money.
Long insists that record-breaking bed taxes—$28 million collected in Pinellas so far this year–pay for her international travels instead of property taxes. Either way, it’s your money and the commissioner insists it’s money well-spent. “The work that we’re doing has been very calculated very thorough and thoughtful,” Long said. “These are not easy decisions to make they are public money and we need to be very careful how we spend it and just because we have it doesn’t mean we have to spend it.”
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