Md. foots bill for La. leader's trip

Parish head's $6,000 visit includes Orioles game with Ehrlich, meeting

October 01, 2005|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

The state spent more than $6,000 to fly a Louisiana parish president to Baltimore this week so he could attend a baseball game with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and meet with the head of the Maryland National Guard.

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard and three aides arrived Tuesday night and were immediately taken from the airport to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was being honored. Ehrlich aides had planned for Broussard to go to the mound with Ehrlich to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but his flight was delayed.

Maryland Military Department officials explained the visit as a debriefing with Broussard about the operations of about 900 medical volunteers in the Maryland Defense Force who helped in Hurricane Katrina relief operations. But they said the timing of the visit to coincide with Ehrlich night at Camden Yards was dictated by the governor, who is the commander of the Maryland National Guard.

Last-minute scheduling to get him to Maryland on Tuesday added to the trip's cost.

Broussard and his aides were picked up by a vehicle dispatched by the governor's staff, stayed for the game against the New York Yankees, then spent the night in downtown Baltimore. Three stayed at the Sheraton Inner Harbor, one at the Renaissance Harborplace. Early the next morning, they went to Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown and spent about 2 1/2 hours meeting with Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Bruce F. Tuxill.

From there, they were taken to the airport. Before leaving, Broussard squeezed in an appearance by phone on The Chip Franklin Show on WBAL-AM.

MEMA spokesman Jeffrey Welsh said the state tried to get transport for Broussard on a military aircraft, but the National Guard wouldn't allow it. Instead, MEMA bought last-minute commercial airline tickets at about $1,200 apiece so Broussard, a Democrat, could accept Republican Ehrlich's invitation to the game, Welsh said.

"Tuesday was a good day to do it," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. "The parish president made very clear that he wanted to thank Governor Ehrlich and the emergency management officials here in Maryland in a very public way."

The hotel rooms, which MEMA also paid for, cost about $350 each at the Sheraton and $330 at the Renaissance, Welsh said.

Tuxill said he was anxious to meet with Broussard because the Maryland Defense Force - doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and clergy who volunteer to help in emergencies - had never been deployed in such a large operation. He said he would have made himself available to meet with Broussard any time, but the Wednesday meeting was dictated by the governor's schedule.

Tuxill said there are some improvements he wants to make to the program, such as giving volunteers military-like training in how to live in adverse conditions. But the message he got from Broussard was that overall, the program was a great success, Tuxill said.

"I really wanted to see from the parish president exactly how well we did, where we had areas for improvement, what we needed, did we do good or do we need to shine it up a bit?" Tuxill said. "And the response I got back was, unequivocally, we were a grand success."

The parish president delivered much the same message to Ehrlich in a telephone call two weeks ago, when he said Maryland was "a lighthouse on a dark shore" for his jurisdiction, just south of New Orleans.

Broussard was out of town yesterday and unavailable for comment, an aide said.

Although Maryland officials arranged Broussard's trip, Ehrlich indicated at last week's Board of Public Works meeting that the trip was the parish president's idea.

"President Broussard is going to be visiting Maryland in the next week or two," Ehrlich said. "We're not sure of the exact date right now, but he's insisting on this visit because he wants to, in a very personal way, thank us."

Ehrlich said at the meeting that he was reluctant to make a public spectacle of Broussard's gratitude to avoid the appearance of scoring political points from a national tragedy.

"My inclination was not to take a phone call nor to have the press watch me take a phone call from the president of Jefferson Parish last week - members of the press did show up - because in my view [that] would have appeared to be hot-dogging, and that's the last thing anybody needs to do today given the state of affairs down there," Ehrlich said.

A week earlier, several reporters sat in a conference room and listened to the call, which Ehrlich took on a speaker phone. His office had listed the call among the events on his public schedule that the media was invited to cover that day.

Ehrlich's press office also issued a media advisory Tuesday afternoon saying Broussard would attend the game.

While standing on the field , Ehrlich communications director Paul E. Schurick got a call on his cellular phone and learned that Broussard's plane had been delayed, a development he loudly lamented to nearby reporters.

Yesterday, Fawell denied that the timing of the trip was dictated by a desire to have Broussard at Tuesday's game.

"We're glad we could host him," Fawell said. "This man is homeless, and he witnessed the total devastation of his parish. We are not going to prevent him from thanking the governor and the state of Maryland in a public way if that is his wish."

andy.green@baltsun.com

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