FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear's administration gave away Olympic tickets worth more than $31,000 after canceling plans to send a delegation.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports (http://bit.ly/WgYyER) the state's 20 tickets were nonrefundable and couldn't easily be resold under Olympics rules. So tourism officials gave them to two British tour companies that sometimes do business in Kentucky.
Kentucky Tourism Department spokesman Gil Lawson said the state had a contractual obligation to buy the tickets from Gosh P.R.
The state canceled its $179,900-a-year contract with the company shortly after canceling the trip. That followed stories in the Herald-Leader about Gosh P.R.'s performance. Also, Tourism Commissioner Mike Cooper resigned over ethics violations involving the company.
Told about the tickets, Kentucky Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson called Cooper "the gift that keeps on giving."
"Understand, we felt like we had a contractual obligation to go ahead and pay for this because we had asked Gosh to buy these tickets for us back in 2011," Lawson said Monday. "We did not know until February that we couldn't get our money back."
He said taking the trip would have costs even more money for items such as airfare, hotels and food.
"The cabinet did not feel it was appropriate to spend any more on this," he said.
The tickets were given to companies called America As You Like It and American Roundup, who in turn gave them to customers.
The state originally had planned to have Cooper lead a delegation to equestrian events at last summer's Olympics and promote Kentucky tourism.
"This is just another example of why we can't have nice things in Kentucky," Robertson said. "We make bad decisions about where we spend our money, and we do it without asking the questions we need to ask, such as whether a trip is really essential and whether we can get our money back if we change our minds. It shows a cavalier attitude about public funds."
However, Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau President Jim Browder, who had planned to send a contingent of people with the state delegation, says he thinks the state should have gone ahead with the trip.
"We thought that it would be a huge opportunity to have that many equine writers in one spot. You can spend $10,000 on a single magazine ad to promote your city," he said.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com