Libba Evans, head of the state cultural agency, has been on unpaid leave since May 1 — which means she wasn't on the clock when she participated in a trip to Russia and Estonia.
Evans was a member of a five-person cultural exchange trip in May to Russia and Estonia that cost taxpayers more than $56,000. The delegation also included first lady Mary Easley.
Evans, the secretary of the state Department of Cultural Resources, initiated the leave to take care of "personal business," said Staci Meyer, general counsel and chief deputy for the department.
"She initiated it and we discussed it and decided that was the appropriate thing to do as she dealt with some personal business," Meyer said.
Evans had already committed to participating in the trip and she was not paid as a state employee during the trip, Meyer said.
Meyer said she could not comment on the nature of Evans' personal business.
Evans salary when she went on leave is $117,142. The figure would increase upon her return because the legislature approved a pay raise.
Meyer has been running the department. She now makes $119,000.