• FOX13 Investigates: Tracking your tax dollars

    By: Kody Leibowitz

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    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Picturesque castles, premiere dining experiences and a brewery tour in the Czech Republic are among the list of sites seen last year by the Memphis in May delegation that included five city and county public officials, according to the schedule released to FOX13 Investigates. 

    Most of the days were spent touring historical sites in the European country chosen as the heritage salute for the 2018 Memphis in May International Festival, per the documented schedule.

    RELATED: FOX13 Investigates: How local officials taking trips overseas impacts your tax dollars

    In March of 2018, four Shelby County officials and one Memphis city councilmember stepped inside the Memphis International Airport like thousands of other daily commuters.


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    Then-Shelby County commissioner Steve Basar, current-commissioner Willie Brooks, county employee Kim Denbow, former Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis city councilmember Berlin Boyd traveled overseas to Prague. 

    The five were part of a 38-person Memphis in May delegation.

    Councilmember Boyd declined an on-camera interview request for this report. 

    Brooks and Luttrell spoke with FOX13 Investigates about the trips.

    “They have a series of full agenda for the full week,” Brooks said. “It’s not like we’re just hanging out. It’s a work schedule.”

    The legal department for Memphis City Council provided FOX13 Investigates with a batch of documents on Monday, which included a schedule for the 2018 trip. 

    The trip, per the document, mostly centered around two cities and a spa town: Český Krumlov, Prague and Karlovy Vary.

    The first day, Sunday, March 25, was a travel day for most, so the schedule wasn’t packed with much; just travel from Prague Airport to Český Krumlov.

    On Monday, March 26th, instead of business meetings, the delegation went on a walking city tour and visited the famous Český Krumlov castle.

    Day two was another day of tourism, and according to the schedule, no business meetings were schedule.

    Members of the delegation had the evening to themselves. But they did see the Hluboka Castle as a stop heading back into Prague. 

    After checking in around 4 p.m., travelers had the evening to themselves.

    It was not until Wednesday, March 28, three days after the group arrived, when the schedule showed the only business, work-related day.

    The delegation took part in a 75-minute breakfast with AmCham Czech Republic, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic, according to an email sent out by Memphis in May five days before the trip.

    Later, the group toured the Prague Castle, drove around the city and had a two-hour reception at the residence of US Ambassador Stephen King.

    Former Shelby County mayor Mark Luttrell said March 28 was his only full day on the trip.

    “I try to choose my time wisely on those trips. It’s not an excursion. It’s not a vacation. It should be a business trip,” Luttrell said. “I try to approach it as a business trip, once my business is taken care of, then I need to get back to work.”

    Documents show the four other public officials continued their excursion. 

    The schedule shows the group traversed to the spa town of Karlovy Vary on Thursday, March 29. There the group saw the Jan Becher museum, Moser Glassworks and museum and went to a ‘taking of the waters.’

    “Karlovy Vary, the most famous Czech spa, has always been inseparably connected with the soothing curative effect of its warm mineral springs,” the document reads. “They marked the history, architecture, economy and the whole spirit of the city.”

    On Friday, March 30, day six, the delegation went on a brewery tour at Pilsen Urquell before a farewell dinner at Kampa Park, described in the schedule as the city’s “premiere fine dining establishment.”

    Day seven: homeward bound.

    Luttrell, when asked if he felt it was unnecessary to be in the Czech Republic for all seven days, he said he “didn’t think it was.”

    “Because some of the trip is purely social,” Luttrell said. 

    On the Czech Republic trip, Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers spent, combined, at least $21,000 for five public officials, according to documents provided by the City of Memphis and Memphis in May. 

    The only known partnership that came from this trip: the University of Memphis agreed to a first-in-the-nation research agreement with the Czech Academy of Sciences.

    For the full itinerary, click here.

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