“We will fix this.”
That's the promise today from Derrick Howard, Chairman of the CPS Energy Board of Trustees.
It comes in response to my series of investigations revealing the inside story on how the publicly funded utility uses some of your money on expensive meals. Over the past two days I've reported on expensive meals, retirement parties and employee parties at CPS Energy that you paid for. Since then ratepayers have been emailing, calling and posting on our website, wanting to know how to stop CPS from misspending their money.
Throughout my investigation, the utility and CEO Doyle Beneby has justified the expenses. So it's unclear if the utility's top executive was just giving me lip service when he said, “There could be some areas where what you might have uncovered causes us to go back and look at our policy and and we'd be more than happy to do so.”
To make sure ratepayers get some kind of action, I went to Beneby's boss - Chairman Howard - who also has attended some of the events.
I asked him, “What do you say to those ratepayers who don't like the way this money is being spent?”
“At the end of the day, in my opinion, a lot of expenses can be challenged. I think there is always an opportunity to go back and review, retool and rethink what's appropriate and what's not -- and we'll do that," said Howard. "But I think the ratepayers can be assured that we continue to be and operate as one of the best utilities in the country.”
During a follow up phone call today, Howard told me CPS plans to review the expenses and its policies and in his words – “we will fix this.”
The latest embarrassing receipts I uncovered have to do with the former leader of the utility. When former CEO Milton Lee retired in 2010, it was a long goodbye that included not one - but four going away parties. Including meals at Bohanan’s restaurant for $3,174 with his senior management team. A trip to Fleming's steak house with board members for $2,120. And another dinner at Bohanan’s -- this time with his chiefs of staff for $1,106.
CPS says it cannot find the receipts from these meals, so we don't know exactly what you paid for.
Lee's farewell also included a lunch at La Villita for rank and file employees to say their goodbyes. The bill shows the event cost $6,182 and included $675 for balloon arches. Total tab to ratepayers for the long goodbye - $12,583.
These expenses and others I uncovered showing expensive wining and dining have ticked off a lot of ratepayers.
George Rodriguez is a self proclaimed taxpayer watchdog with the San Antonio Tea Party.
“Oh my gosh! A seven thousand dollar going away party?” asked Rodriguez.
“They may be talking about clean energy. The only thing getting cleaned here is our pocket books,” said Rodriguez, who is demanding CPS pull the plug on these pricey events. “We've got to remind them that people scrimp and save pennies to pay their bills, their electrical and gas bills. And for them to be squandering them in this manner just cannot be justified. I'm sorry, you just cannot tell us that this is okay.”
I'll be following up on this story to keep the heat on CPS Energy to make sure it spends your money more wisely.