Questions surrounding a Lee County commissioner’s whereabouts during Hurricane Ian

Reporter: Peter Fleischer Writer: Matthew Seaver
Lee County Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass. (Credit: WINK News)

Sources tell WINK News a Lee County commissioner was out of the country while Southwest Florida got hit by Hurricane Ian.

WINK News has learned that Lee County Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass left the country and was in Germany the week of Hurricane Ian.

Multiple county sources reached out to WINK News investigative reporter Peter Fleischer after his story about Lee County evacuation protocols.

Those sources say they saw Commissioner Pendergrass talking about the county’s evacuation protocol and were angry, saying the commissioner didn’t have to worry about evacuation because he was in Germany while his constituents battled deadly winds and flooding.

The question is, who paid for the trip, and why was he in Germany?

A document obtained by WINK News shows that the Lee County Commission entered into a media agreement with a company called Brand USA earlier this year. Brand USA helps to drive international tourism, and Lee County is looking to bring more visitors to Southwest Florida.

“That effort reaps significant rewards for our community,” said Tamara Pigott, a certified destination management executive, during a commission meeting in September discussing Brand USA and county tourism.

The Brand USA website confirms a “Travel week event” took place in Frankfurt, Germany, from September 26 to 29, the days when Ian approached and decimated the community Pendergrass represents.

Pendergrass posted hurricane-related information on Facebook that week without mentioning his trip. He did not appear publicly after Ian until October 2, when he spoke at a hurricane recovery press event.

That is when Pendergrass addressed the county’s evacuation protocol and people who did not leave the area.

Lee County Hurricane Ian update from October 2. (Credit: Lee County)

“The people in a, now looking back, Monday morning quarterbacking, they should’ve looked forward and said I need to go. Why am I still sitting here front and center? They didn’t leave, I respect their choices, but I’m sure they regret it now,” said Pendergrass at a hurricane recovery press event.

WINK News has submitted numerous requests to interview Commissioner Pendergrass over the last week, including visiting his office in person twice. Pendergrass’ office said they would release a statement when his schedule allows.

County officials have not confirmed that Pendergrass was in Germany on this trip or whether taxpayer dollars funded it.

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