Tampa, Florida-- Invitations, a photographer, decorations, and gourmet food...it sounds like the typical planning for a wedding, but 10 Investigates has uncovered these were all items on the checklist for a celebration of the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority that you paid for.
The menu called for fresh rolls, spinach salad with apples and goat cheese, pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, grilled veggies and chocolate mousse. It was a meal you didn't eat, but you paid $27 a plate for; it was the lunch served so the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority could pat themselves on the back at their 50th Anniversary Celebration.
Tampa Mayor, Bob Buckhorn was not impressed or happy about it.
"Public officials and public agencies have to be cautious about perceptions," he said.
The agency runs the Selmon Expressway and gets its funding from your tolls, and some from parking meters under the roadway.
We asked Expressway Authority Executive Director Joe Waggoner if he thought the average person paying tolls on the Selmon, or feeding the meters below would be happy about the money spent on a luncheon.
" I think if you look at what has been accomplished and how that roadway has been managed, yes they would," Waggoner replied.
Waggoner says he believes the public would be delighted the agency is celebrating its' 50th anniversary, and held a luncheon where the guest list was made up of local politicians alongside current and former board members of the agency.
"It was a great event and a good event for the community because the community made us, and we try to serve as best we can," he told us.
But when 10 Investigates pointed out the community wasn't invited, Waggoner acknowledged the fact that the public was left off the list, but said they were represented there.
"...However the community is represented by our board members and local elected officials," said Waggoner.
The "private" party for 80 selected guests to celebrate the public cost $8,000 for planning, and another $8,000 for the actual event. A photographer, invitations, decorations and food, averaged $200 per person.
The Mayor, who is on the board of the Expressway Authority, said with a sense of irritation that he "Didn't go" and he "...voted against it."
"I thought it was unfortunate, and they chose that way and that much to spend on a party. I thought it was totally unnecessary," Mayor Buckhorn said.
To validate the mayor's position, 10 Investigates also uncovered the $16,000 spent on the elaborate celebration was more than $7,575 over budget!
And while that is a drop in the bucket to the expressway authority's agency, which has a multi-million dollar debt, the agency is also spending public dollars on beautifying Meridian Boulevard. Among the beautification projects are landscaping and park bench installation, work on pedestrian walkways, and cleaning of the underpass at Bay to Bay Blvd- all of which the mayor says is more beneficial to the public than feeding politicians.
"15,000 bucks (actually it was $16,000) for rubber chicken- I could think of a better way to spend that money that would be of benefit to the expressway authority," said the mayor.
But Waggoner says the party was actually a bargain.
"This event could have been done to a much higher level and higher cost, but we ratcheted them down to what could be done in a decent way."
And while Mayor Buckhorn says there is no question the party could have cost more, he adds $16,000 is still way over the top, and is what he considers to be an unnecessary use of public money for a self-aggrandizing party for "muckety- mucks." Buckhorn says public agencies should not and cannot operate like businesses in the private sector and everything about this use of public money for the celebration was wrong.