Taxpayers Foot $18,050 Bill for Travel; New Expenses Come to Light as a Criminal Investigation Continues against Ex-Nassau Administrators

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Byline: DAVID HUNT

A $3,850 business trip that became the focal point as three Nassau County administrators were fired and another resigned was just part of $18,050 in taxpayer-funded seminar and conference travel the four had racked up over the past few years.

Whether those past expenses could lead to more trouble for them is an open question as an audit and a criminal investigation continue.

Road and bridge chief Butch Hartman, building maintenance head Daniel Salmon and landfill closure supervisor Lee Pickett were fired last week, the morning after code enforcement chief Brenda Rothwell resigned.

The four were targeted in a private investigator's surveillance video during their trip to a hurricane preparedness conference in May in Fort Lauderdale. About 90 minutes of footage shows them hanging around - with an extended shot of a naked Rothwell on a balcony in public view - as conference records suggest the four missed sessions they'd signed up for.

The trip cost taxpayers $3,850. According to a Times-Union analysis of county records, the same four expensed a total of $4,215 to go to the same conference in 2009. Combined, their records showed $18,050 in travel expenses dating back to 2006.

County Manager Ted Selby said the 2009 trip did not influence his decision to fire Hartman, Salmon and Pickett while accepting Rothwell's resignation. But County Commission Chairman Mike Boyle and Clerk of Courts John Crawford, who had been butting heads over how to investigate the administrators, each said Friday the older records may be worth a look.

"I'm not overly concerned, but given the revelations of the past month it would probably be prudent to double-check them," Boyle said.

The four administrators have retained a lawyer, John Cascone, who is appealing the firings. He said he will help Rothwell clear her name, as well.

Cascone said he questions the political motivation of the video. He also questions how 90 minutes of footage with no verifiable time element could possibly be evidence that the four charged taxpayers for a conference they did not attend.

"Where's the justification?" Cascone said Friday. "If somebody were to follow anybody for five days, they'd be able to put something pretty embarrassing together. …