UPDATE (12/1): When asked about approving $25,000 in local tax money to help throw an 11-day party for the Gravely Commissioning, New Hanover County Commissioner Jason Thompson told a local newspaper Tuesday, "The people who can't see that (the benefits of the ship's visit) are shortsighted with ignorance and spite and can't look at the common good."
Many local politicians have continued to argue that the commissioning was an historic event for Wilmington and made money for the area through sales and occupancy taxes.
UPDATE (11/30): Gravely Commissioning Co-Chairman David Scheu shared some of the costs of the week-long party with a local newspaper today, even though Co-Chairman Louise McColl said Monday the numbers wouldn't be available for another two to three weeks.
The City of Wilmington and New Hanover County each gave the group $25,000. Scheu says that $50,000 was about 25% of the total budget.
So far, here's what we know they spent:
> Fireworks Show Friday night - $25,000 (There was very little promotion of this event. McColl says the Star-News donated 44,000 inserts the week-of to promote the event. Otherwise, WWAY only got a news release from John Hinnant, Director of Wilmington Downtown Inc. just a few hours before the event. It's estimated there were only a few hundred people along Water Street to watch the fireworks.)
> Transportation Expenses - $15,000
> BBQ Dinner for Gravely's crew of 283 sailors - $2,000
> Plaques for the crew - $10,000
> Gravely Biography for the crew - $5,000
Scheu now says the city, the county and local media should have the expense report by the end of the week.
UPDATE (11/29): We talked with Louise McColl, the Gravely Commissioning Organizer today, to get an update on our request to see how $50,000 of city and county tax dollars were spent during the event. She said that while she was the head of the Friends of the Battleship board, she was not aware of how the money was spent, and she would have the treasurer put that together in the next two or three weeks.
She also told us that she would never request money from the city or county again for an event like this because of all the trouble it had caused her, but then reversed course and changed her mind when we asked if she were on the record.
And she told us that she felt like the only reason we were doing the story and asking the questions about how the money was spent was because the TV station "didn't like her."
"It's not that we don't like Ms. McColl," said WWAY News Director Scott Pickey, "We just feel that if you're going to request that kind of money during one of the worst recessions of our lifetime and during a time that the county is raising taxes and the city is talking about doing the same, people should know specifically what their money is being spent on. They deserve that. It's about transparency, not whether we like someone and want to hang out and eat pizza with them."
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) - Now that the USS Gravely is headed to Norfolk and commissioning organizers have had a chance to catch their breath, we're thinking it would be interesting to see exactly what our $50,000 in tax dollars went to buy for the commissioning party.
We've requested a detailed breakdown from Louise McColl (http://www.mccoll-associates.com), who was in charge of the week-long event.
Both the City Council and the County Commission agreed to give McColl $25,000 a piece for the event, even though we're the midst of a recession and the county recently raised the sales tax.
WWAY NewsChannel 3 was the first local TV station to ask both council members and commissioners why they were giving away that amount of money when both government offices are facing tough economic times.
As soon as McColl gets back to us, we'll pass the information along to you.