ATLANTA – The evening of Nov 19, 2022, Delta flight 33 pulls up to gate E-6 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport straight from London, England. The FOX 5 I-Team was there too, watching then-Lt Gov. Geoff Duncan get off the plane to a waiting SUV.
Duncan was returning home from a trade mission he and then-President Pro Tempore Sen. Butch Miller lead in Germany and London.
Duncan brought two state troopers with him for protection.
Duncan and Miller were in their final weeks of office when the trip took place.
Duncan, the state’s second-in-command, announced he had decided not to run again. Miller lost his primary race to become lieutenant governor to Burt Jones.
But before leaving office, the two men led an eight-day bipartisan Senate delegation to Europe.
Among the more than a dozen people on the trip, were Republican state Senator Clint Dixon, Democratic Senators Sonya Halpern, Sheikh Rahman, and Emanuel Jones.
Reporter: “What did you learn?”
Jones: “Ah, um. It was an incredible trip.”
The Senate made a video of the trip to put on the social media when they returned.
One source told the FOX 5 I-Team, due to all the questions people were asking privately about why Duncan and Miller took the trip, the video was never made public. Until FOX 5 requested it.
Reporter: “Is this just a junket?”
Jones: “Well, I don’t know why they would say that. Well, certainly considering those that were on the trip, I can potentially see why some would feel that way.”
Initially, FOX 5 could not get the exact cost of the legislators’ portion of the trip.
Why Not? Because the legislators who wrote the Open Records laws exempted themselves from the Open Records law. Which means the public can’t find out how many trips they take, where they go, and how much it costs.
Reporter: “Is that a good idea for taxpayers not to be able to take a look what did this cost us?”
Jones: “I don’t think it’s a good idea and I’m on record stating as such.”
Legislative counsel Rick Ruskell would not reveal how much the trip cost because of that legislative exemption. But the Georgia Patrol and the Georgia Department of Economic Development are subject to the Open Records Act. When FOX 5 asked to see their travel costs, it was found their portion of the trip combined was some $20,000.
A source told FOX 5 the legislator’s portion of the trip was another $90,000 or so. Bringing the total cost to around $110,000.
Reporter: “If you are getting ready to walk out of office, should you be spending tax money on a trip like that?”
William Perry: “Absolutely not.”
William Perry, former director of good government group Common Cause and founder of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, says a trade mission like this one takes years to produce results.
He sees no reason why Duncan and Miller needed to go to Europe when they were leaving office. The worst part: he says taxpayers cannot track trips since the legislature is exempt from the Open Records Act.
“It’s a horrible deal and biggest example of hypocrisy that exists in politics,” said Perry.
The trip was first reported by the AJC. After it was reported, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and President Pro Tem Sen. John Kennedy released a joint statement saying their offices will “investigate this process and ensure the most transparency for hardworking Georgians.”
“You, I, the public will never know where that money went or what it was used for,” said Perry.
The FOX 5 I-Team found another trip they may be interested in. Then-Lt. Gov. Duncan and a security detail traveled to Deerfield Beach in Florida right before his final day in office, from December 28th to the 30th. The state trooper’s trip cost $758.
The FOX 5 I-Team does not know Duncan’s cost because of that Open Records exemption.
“The only way you get to find out is because the state patrol is accountable to the Open Records act but not the government official they are protecting,” said Perry.
The FOX 5 I-Team asked Duncan what was the state’s business in Florida. He has not responded to any of our questions.
Butch Miller emailed to say the trip was publicized in advance and was informative for him and the other senators.
Source : Fox5