Politics & Government

‘Sister city’ Italy trip cost Hilton Head taxpayers $7K so far. That’s only airfare

Why become sister cities? What Hilton Head leaders said — and gifted — to Verona

Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Verona, Italy, recently signed a "friendship pact" marking them as sister cities. Here's why local leaders were excited about the new partnership — and what gifts they brought from S.C. to the Verona dignitaries.
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Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Verona, Italy, recently signed a "friendship pact" marking them as sister cities. Here's why local leaders were excited about the new partnership — and what gifts they brought from S.C. to the Verona dignitaries.

A trip to Verona, Italy, to sign a “friendship pact” with Verona leaders has cost Hilton Head Island taxpayers $7,231 so far, according to initial travel receipts obtained by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Nearly half of that cost was for Mayor John McCann’s first-class flights, which cost $3,348.

The total represents only airfare, since McCann and Town Manager Steve Riley have not submitted reimbursement requests for their itinerary, meals or other expenses. McCann returned from Verona on June 24, while Riley doesn’t return until June 30.

The Town of Hilton Head Island is reimbursing three trips to Verona for the ceremony: those of McCann, Riley and Riley’s wife, Mary Jo.

Mary Jo Riley does not work for the town in any capacity, but her travel can be paid for by the town when her “presence at work-related functions is expected or in the town’s interest,” according to Riley’s contract.

The Rileys’ reimbursement for two tickets from Savannah to Italy was $3,882.86 — just $533 more than McCann’s airfare reimbursement for an international “Delta One” ticket.

Delta One is two steps above first class, and includes a fully reclining bed, power outlets, a skincare kit and noise-canceling headphones, according to the Delta website.

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Delta Air Lines website

The Rileys took the same flight to Milan, but according to their tickets, sat in economy.

Asked Wednesday why he chose a more expensive flight, McCann said “I’m a retired executive who’s flown all over the world. If you’re going to spend half a day getting someplace, you want to be in the best shape you can when you get there.”

McCann’s adult daughter, Karen, also went on the Verona trip and sat next to him in the Delta One section. The town did not reimburse Karen McCann’s trip in any form, McCann said, and his travel receipts confirm.

Why’d they go to Italy?

The purpose of the trip to Italy is to sign a friendship pact with leaders in Verona, exchange gifts and see the area.

McCann and the Rileys were accompanied by members of the Italian-American Club of Hilton Head Island, who told The Island Packet they paid their own way.

Last week, members of the club posted photos on Facebook showing McCann exchanging a large, custom woodcut plaque with Verona and Hilton Head Island etched into it.

Gifts presented to the Italian city’s council also included a flag from RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, a small lighthouse figurine and a painting of the 18th green of the Harbour Town Golf Links course.

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Town of Hilton Head Island inlingua Verona

McCann said his favorite part of the trip — which he classified as “all business” — was meeting with the mayor of Verona, Federico Sboarina.

“We had some interesting conversations at the end. He’s trying to build more green spaces and handling the environmental people and the business people who don’t want to give up land,” McCann said, likening those issues to those he faces on Hilton Head. “He’s taking old commercial space, unused spaces and making parks.”

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.
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