Some Utility Officials Running Up Big Tabs on Ratepayers

From reporter Josh Flory:
In recent months, the News Sentinel sought travel records from local utility districts across East Tennessee and examined piles of receipts along the way. Many of them were for mundane purposes — meals at Cracker Barrel, registrations for conferences and the like.
But at some districts the records showed a willingness by employees or board members to spend ratepayers’ money on more extravagant expenses. Three local districts have either altered their travel policies or eliminated certain spending practices in recent months.

Listed expenses in the article include dinner for 18 at the Peddler in Gatlinburg for $886.99, dinner for seven at the Stock Yard in Nashville for  $430.20 and dinner for six at the Palm in Nashville for $458.93.
…The (South Blount Utility) district has adjusted its policies on travel within the last year. In an interview this month, District Manager Henry Durant said that last November TAUD (Tennessee Association of Utility Districts) held a school for commissioners, and that was when South Blount learned it was not appropriate for a district to cover meal costs for spouses who are traveling with district commissioners or employees. He said South Blount stopped that practice at the end of last year.
“We didn’t really understand that there was a problem with that,” Durant said.
Durant said that because of the News Sentinel’s inquiry, South Blount decided to seek restitution for certain expenses incurred by spouses, although he said the amount of money won’t exceed $200 or $300.
In addition, Durant said that at a recent board meeting, the district adopted a travel policy to establish a per diem expense rate for employee travel. The manager said the district thought it had a travel policy, but realized recently that it did not.

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