SAN ANTONIO -- Imagine having expensive steak dinners and fine wine at the fanciest restaurants in San Antonio. Now imagine paying for those dinners for someone else every time you pay your electric bill.
We all know big private companies can spend lavishly on meals for their top executives. But CPS Energy is not a company, it's a city-owned utility fueled by your money. So I’ve been digging through thousands of expense records from the past two years to find out just how CPS Energy and its CEO Doyle Beneby use some of your money to wine and dine themselves.
Beneby's salary as CEO of CPS Energy this year is $410,000. Last August, the public utility's board gave him a $180,000 bonus. You'd think with all that dough, he wouldn't make you pick up the tab for his dinners. But receipts I uncovered show you pay when Beneby wines and dines at some of the priciest restaurants in town. That includes last June, when Beneby and two consultants hired by the utility ate at Fleming’s steak house in The Quarry. The bill came out to $421.32. We don't know what they ate, because Beneby only turned in the credit card receipt.
Another dinner at Fleming's, this time with local public relations guru Jim Dublin last March, added up to $327.87. Again, no detailed receipt was provided.
But we do know what was on the menu during one meal Beneby enjoyed at your expense last July with more consultants. They dined on seared ahi tuna, tenderloin, New York strips and a filet. To wash it all down, six glasses of wine for $96, followed by a bottle of the vino at $64. The final tab was $719.54. Remember – you’re paying for all this.
I tried to sit down with Beneby to talk about why ratepayers, many of whom struggle to pay their electric bill, should pick up the tab for his pricey meals. But I was told by his public relations person he was too busy. So last Monday, I approached him after a board meeting to see if he could make time to talk.
“If it's a discussion of meals, our chief compliance officer is a much better source for that. But if it's a comprehensive discussion of what value CPS is adding to the community, I’d be more than happy to schedule some time with you,” Beneby told me.
I did want to ask Beneby about what value CPS Energy is adding to the community with these meals. I especially wanted to learn about one last April at Bohanan's steak house Downtown. On this receipt, Beneby wrote "dinner meeting" - "Michael & Debra Hill" - "Lincoln University." I did some digging and found out it is the school in Pennsylvania where Beneby worked before being hired here. In fact, Beneby is a trustee at the university. His dinner partner that night, Michael Hill, is listed on the school's website as a vice president who "works closely with the president and board of trustees on all aspects of fund raising and marketing." The total cost of the meal for Beneby and the couple was $591.02. Again, no receipt showing what exactly you paid for was submitted.
Beneby later called me and explained the dinner meeting was to discuss educational issues.
“I think our community especially would benefit quite a bit from what they're doing, their programs, and how they attract minority students to technology programs. We have very low rate of minority participation in technical programs in San Antonio. So I think it's very relevant,” said Beneby.
After our phone call, I was given an email showing Hill requested the meeting with Beneby "to discuss possible partnership opportunities regarding clean energy initiatives."
So why did you pay for it? And why go to such pricey restaurants?
“There are just some places that are more conducive to conducting business. And, quite frankly, we view these kinds of discussions and benefits commensurate with the kinds of places we're having dinner,” said Beneby.
If the amount of those meals doesn't seem like that much to you, check this out. CPS Energy spent more than $800,000 on food and drinks in the past two years. That money was for things like feeding crews in the field during power outages and business meetings held at CPS Energy offices. But some of your money is also going to wine and dine board members and other top executives. I'll reveal those receipts Monday night on News 4 WOAI at 10:00 p.m.
So what do you think about how your money is being spent? Post your thoughts in the comments section below...