Questions raised over commissioner's European trip

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Frequent observers of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners want to know what Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph did during a November 2010 trip to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and how much it cost the county.

At a commission meeting on Tuesday, community advocate Chuck Ware presented County Attorney Michael Smith with an Open Records request, asking for "copies of all expenses incurred Commissioner Wole Ralph in his travel to Amsterdam."

Another commission observer, Rex resident, Rosa Barbee, said she has also filed a request for Ralph's travel expenses.

Ware and Barbee said they have not heard Ralph give a public explanation for the trip at commission meetings. Ware criticized the trip, saying the only things he knew of that were in Amsterdam were a park where drug users congregate, and the city's "Red Light" prostitution area.

"What in Harlem, in Amsterdam, could they show us to benefit us?" Ware asked. "We don't need no more prostitutes, and we sure don't need no more drug addicts."

Ralph has said he took the trip, with Clayton County Director of Economic Development Grant Wainscott, to attend the International Air Cargo Association's bi-annual conference of international air cargo companies. He said it was an effort to lure more air cargo companies to the Clayton County area. He also explained that there is a news release on the county's web site, detailing the trip, and air cargo-related efforts.

He said they went to the conference with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in an effort to see how they could lure more air cargo business to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is operated the City of Atlanta, but is mostly located in Clayton County.

He said that the airport, reputed to be the busiest in the world for passenger travel, is not even among the top 10 busiest airports for air cargo.

Ralph said there is a movement underway at the airport to change that.

"The reason why that's important for Clayton County is that Clayton County is the logistics hub for cargo companies that would locate here, which means jobs, which means industry, which means increased opportunities for Clayton County residents," Ralph said.

Ralph said the group of Atlanta and Clayton County representatives, who went to the conference, did achieve some success in Amsterdam, luring Italian air cargo company, Cargoitalia, to the airport. Cargoitalia's arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson was announced in January, and the carrier began flights out of the airport in February.

Ralph said he did not know, off the top of his head, how much his and Wainscott's trip ended up costing, however.