SAN ANTONIO - The CPS Energy board of trustees approved a new policy Monday aimed at stopping lavish spending on meals that had enraged ratepayers.
It's the result of my investigation last February into extravagant meals by the municipally owned utility. But now I’ve uncovered more pricey perks you're paying for, including $500 a night hotel stays and first class airfare for CEO Doyle Beneby.
Recently released travel records show Beneby stays at some of the finest and most expensive hotels. His travel receipts from last year include several one night stays at swanky Four Seasons hotels in several different cities. In Philadelphia his overnight stay cost $558. In Chicago it cost $548. In Austin it cost $454. During a stay in Washington DC the chief executive officer stayed at the prestigious Mayflower hotel. The tab for one night there was $507.
The records also reveal that when Beneby flies, it's often first class. The utility says the expensive flights, many over $1000, are only booked when his busy schedule won't allow for a cheaper flight.
“Well some of those issues, I compensated the company myself,” said Beneby before Monday’s board meeting.
He’s talking about his $5,000 reimbursement to ratepayers he made after my initial investigation into his meal expenses. Beneby now indicates he may pay back more for these travel expenses. He’s also likely to be making cheaper travel plans in the future as the board looks to change the utility’s travel rules.
“That policy is actually in the cue to be reviewed and revised as we speak,” said Beneby. “So, I feel confident in, just as in meals and other policies, that we'll come out with something that comports more to public expectations.”
I also recently discovered that a new employee was recently added to Beneby's staff that has some CPS employees crying foul based on several emails I received about the hire.
The new addition to Beneby’s had been a waitress at Fleming’s Steak House where Beneby liked to dine at ratepayer’s expense before the controversy over his expenses erupted in February. Sources at the restaurant tell me Beneby would always ask for her (we’ve decided not to name the individual) to wait on him. Now the former waitress makes $60,000 a year preparing Beneby for meetings and community outreach, including scheduling his speaking engagements. The public utility never posted the job opening.
An internal email from CPS Energy’s human resources director last November says "Doyle has identified a staffing need and selected an individual for this role."
The CEO denies orchestrating the hire.
“With respect to the email, I didn't say anything. In fact, I think, as natural in any organization, anything that emanates from my office quite often has my name attached to it,” insisted Beneby. “But I cannot answer many specifics of that case, but I do know it's not unusual to hire without posting.”
The utility’s spokesperson says Beneby's assistant attended some of those Fleming’s dinners and was the one who recommended the waitress for the position. But now because of my investigation CPS has on Monday also voted unanimously to change its hiring policy. Jobs like the one in Beneby's office will now be required to be posted in the future.