Gulfport Mayor Calls Campaign Reimbursement Issue "Embarrassing"

The cost of a presidential visit sparks division and disagreement at Gulfport City Hall. Mayor Ken Combs has vetoed a city council resolution which seeks reimbursement for the $20,000 the city spent hosting President George Bush in Jones Park.

A spokesman for the "Barbour for Governor" camp promised the city the Barbour campaign would reimburse the cost for that November visit. When the bill wasn't paid, the city council passed a resolution agreeing to send an official letter seeking reimbursement.

But the Mayor has a real problem with that decision.

A divided city council agreed to seek reimbursement from the Barbour camp after hearing concerns voiced by the Gulfport NAACP.  That group's president said it's unthinkable to pay $20,000 for a partisan event when the city is strapped for money.

Mayor Combs says the reimbursement is fine, it's the public attention that upsets him.

"I'd rather have done it without all of this embarrassment. To me it's an embarrassment. I supported Governor Barbour," said the mayor.

Mayor Combs says the very public attempts to seek reimbursement could also be embarrassing to the President and to the Republican Party. The mayor says he's been working privately with the Barbour camp to get the money repaid.

The president of the Gulfport NAACP says the real issue isn't politics. It's money.

"This is not about partisan politics. This is about stewardship and fiscal responsibility. A promise was made that the City of Gulport would not incur any expenses," said NAACP president, Felicia Dunn Burkes.

City council members who pushed for the reimbursement resolution agree that paying the bill should be the primary concern.

"I think it's going to be an embarrassment if the governor doesn't come forward and pay the bill or have his campaign pay it. That's all me and Billy Hewes were trying to do. Get them to pay their bill and we'll move on with our business," said council president, Chuck Teston.

Councilman Billy Hewes says it's a fiscal matter.

"Far as I'm concerned, it's purely a business decision. They made the commitment. We provided the services and we're deep in debt and we could use that $20,000 for some projects that we have," said Hewes.

The city council will address the issue at its next meeting, April 6th.  It takes five votes to override the mayoral veto.