Bill For Bush Visit Still A Sore Subject For City Leaders

Gulfport leaders want the $20,000 the city spent on President Bush's visit in November. But not enough to override Mayor Ken Combs.

Combs last week vetoed the council's measure to send a demand letter to the Barbour for Governor campaign. Tuesday, a divided council debated the controversy.

City leaders say the Barbour for Governor campaign promised to pay, but hasn't made good on that promise. Mayor Ken Combs says he has no problem with the Barbour campaign paying the bill, but says sending them a formal letter and making a public issue out of the controversy is an embarrassment.

Those who supported overriding the veto say it's simply a matter of fiscal responsibility for a city that's hurting for money.

"We'll get the money because Haley Barbour's campaign staff told us we were going to get it. But I don't want to be any part of embarrassing the President of the United States," said Mayor Ken Combs, as he urged council members to "do the right thing" and support his veto.

Several council members say there's no chance of embarrassing President Bush when the Barbour for Governor campaign is the group that owes the bill.

"It's not about the President of the United States. It's about the Barbour campaign paying what they submitted to pay as part of their campaign," said Ward 1 councilman, Jimmie Jenkins.

"If we're going to do it, let's do it for everybody. Let's find all these other folks that come down and host these events. Let's find them. And charge them for the extra police protection that they incur to the city," Ward 5 councilman Ricky Dombrowski suggested.

Councilman Kim Savant reminded his colleagues that Governor Barbour wields far more power than most.

"We are sitting here with an open palm slapping the governor of the state of Mississippi in the face over a $20,000 when that man could take his pen and sign his name on a veto that could cost us millions," said Savant.

Ward 7 councilman Billy Hewes said it's a matter of business and paying one's bills.

"We need to get this taken care of and promptly. This should have been taken care of a month or two ago," he told his colleagues.

Before the final vote, Kim Savant told council members a private group has agreed to pay the bill.

"And they have said they will raise this money and give a contribution to the City of Gulfport in order to defray those expenses," Savant said.

The mayor's veto prevailed in the end. Four voted to override, but an override requires five votes.

Councilman Savant did not identify the private citizens who've agreed to foot the bill. He called the group "friends of Haley Barbour" and "friends of the City of Gulfport". Savant told the council he'll have a check for the city by the end of this month.