End-of-term Euro trip by Duncan delegation cost taxpayers more than $100,000

Credit: Twitter

Credit: Twitter

New information emerging from Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Senate investigations makes it clear the end-of-term economic development trip outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate President Pro Temp Butch Miller led to Europe after the 2022 elections was not done on the cheap.

There were pricey flights, nights at the Clermont Hotel on Buckingham Palace Road, thousands of dollars spent on ground transportation in Germany, and receptions and meals with dignitaries.

Legislative lawyers rejected requests from the AJC to disclose how much state money was spent on the trip, citing the fact that the General Assembly exempted itself from the Open Records Act that other government officials must follow.

But the AJC has pieced together more than $100,000 in taxpayer spending on the trip through open records requests to agencies and state sources investigating the trip.

That doesn’t include what the state paid for two officers on Duncan’s executive security team to go on the trip. A Georgia Department of Public Safety lawyer said the agency would provide “any available, releasable records within two weeks.”

The AJC reported earlier this month that just before their terms ended Duncan and Miller led a 14-person delegation to Germany and England.

Duncan didn’t run for reelection and Miller lost in May’s Republican primary for lieutenant governor. By the time the mid-November trip took place, voters had already selected their replacements.

After the AJC story ran, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy called for an investigation into how taxpayers wound up paying for the trip.

The group made the trip from Nov. 12 to 19 to the German cities of Munich and Stuttgart and then London as part of a Senate Study Committee on Economic Development and International Relations. The legislation creating the committee was filed and passed by the Georgia Senate at the end of the 2022 session, and the panel was chaired by Miller.

The state’s economic development agency — which has offices in Europe — did not request either the committee or the trip. Two of its staffers went along to facilitate meetings with local officials and businesses in Europe, many of which had Georgia connections.

In a rare bit of bipartisanship in the Senate, some Democrats came out in support of the Republican leaders’ call for a probe.

The AJC reviewed 1,300 pages of emails received through an Open Records Act request from the Department of Economic Development. The documents showed the trip was in the works for months, with emails repeatedly going back and forth between Duncan’s staffers and those helping to facilitate the effort in Germany and the United Kingdom, including state economic development officials in those countries.

According to a report compiled by Duncan’s office and signed by Miller, the group met with government and business officials, toured company headquarters, studios, training schools and other facilities, and attended receptions.

Among the 14 people listed as attending, according to emails, were Duncan, Miller, states Sens. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, Emanuel Jones, D-Ellenwood, Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, and Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, two members of Duncan’s security detail and Andrew Allison, the head of the Senate Press Office who left state government a little more than a month later for another job. Dixon, Jones, Halpern and Rahman all returned to the Senate this year.

State officials, without providing detail, said the trip cost taxpayers $90,000 for Duncan, senators and staff that went on the trip. A breakdown of those costs were not immediately available. Officials said that figure didn’t include Department of Economic Development or Department of Public Safety staff costs.

Records obtained by the AJC from the Department of Economic Development show the agency spent about $11,000 on its two staffers on the trip. Their expenses consisted largely of flights, hotel stays, meals and taxi rides.