CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - UPDATE: February 20, 2014, 5:43 p.m.: Seventeen hours after our story ran, the President of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation contacted FOX19's Amy Wagner. During previous conversations about Carden's trip to Las Vegas, Cincinnati Parks Foundation President, Mark Busher, referred us to the Executive Director of the charitable organization, who declined our interview requests.
Now, Busher says he spoke directly with the Foundation's Executive Director, Susan Dorward, who says the Foundation's money didn't cover that Las Vegas trip. Instead, Busher says the Cincinnati Parks Commission, the public entity that governs the Parks Department, paid for that trip. Repeated attempts to contact members of that Commission have gone unanswered. And while Willie Carden has repeatedly declined our interview requests, he maintains taxpayer money wasn't used. FOX19 will continue to investigate this trip and where the funding came from, and bring you those answers.
The Cincinnati Parks Department and Parks Foundation are planning a brand new event - the River Grill Before the Big Chill - in Cincinnati in October.
To better plan for that barbeque cook-off, Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden and three other city employees traveled to Las Vegas in November to the World Food Championships. According to an email sent by Carden to FOX19 Investigative Reporter, Amy Wagner, the group's goal was to "ascertain how they started their event, reviewed their event logistics and event programming."
Carden says that trip wasn't funded with taxpayer money, but rather with money from the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. Thousands of Tri-State residents and businesses have donated millions of dollars to support that charitable organization over the years.
The charitable organization, a 501c3, was founded in 1995 with a mission of "supporting the conservation and enhancement of our City's parks and greenspaces."
That Vegas trip came just a month before a December announcement by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley that Carden would be the city's next city manager. Carden withdrew just days later for family reasons.
FOX19 has learned that Vegas trip came with a price tag of $9,486.15.
Receipts show that Carden and the Manager of Financial Services for Cincinnati Parks both traveled in first class on the flight. Their tickets were $1,095 apiece.
The group stayed at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Klug, along with Jennifer Mobley, the Waterfront Parks Manager and Ruth Ann Spears, who heads the parks program for underprivileged kids, each had their room upgraded.
The group also charged the Parks Foundation for t-shirts and koozies, tissues, Halls Mentho-Lyptus, gum and Cold and Flu Relief.
Their meals included dinner at the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, where the tab included two ribeyes at $60 apiece, that meal cost $338.52.
It was followed by drinks at the Four Seasons Bar, which included a Baileys and an Absolute Vodka.
The group also took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. According to Sundance Helicopters who provided that tour, it included a limo ride to the airport where they boarded a helicopter to the Grand Canyon, then landed for a picnic complete with champagne. That tour, including the deposit, cost $1,560.80.
While the receipts speak for themselves, Carden has nothing to say about them. In a response to an email requesting an interview.
"Currently, my schedule is slammed and my goal is to announce the River Grill and event sponsors in late June of 2014. Please contact me at that time," he said.
Wagner tried to track Carden down at his office. She asked for an appointment for an interview and was told by his assistant, "As soon as he is back, let me ask him. I can give you a call back to let you know his answer."
When Wagner didn't hear back, she tried again, but was told, "No, he's not here."
Carden did call and informed Wagner he was "too busy" to talk about the Vegas trip. One reason, he cited another recent trip to Washington, D.C. for park business.
As for the Cincinnati Parks Foundation, several members of the Board of Trustees referred Wagner to the President of the Board. He referred her to the Executive Director of the Foundation. She declined the request for an interview, stating that she reports to Carden.
As for Klug, Spears and Mobley, to interview them, Wagner was told she needed permission from the person who runs the Division of Business Services for Cincinnati Parks. That woman said she needed Carden's permission to allow them to talk. Wagner never heard back.
As for Carden, according to the city's charter, he reports to the Board of Park Commissioners, which consists of five members who are appointed by the mayor to serve a term of six years.