NES Officials Wine, Dine At Ratepayers' Expense

NES Officials Wine, Dine At Ratepayers' Expense

CREATED Nov 15, 2011

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered that some Nashville Electric Service brass have been living well -- and sticking ratepayers with the bill.

Now, the NES President is promising to pay back hundreds of dollars.

Still, some ratepayers were shocked by what we uncovered.

"You know I'm not going to like that, right?" said NES customer Dorothy Beasley, when we asked if she wanted to see how NES has spent ratepayers' money.

Customer Carolyn Adams looked at one expense. "Coors Light, well, we love paying that, don't we?"

Brittany Freeman pored over one hotel bill. "Is that a mini-bar, like a hotel room? Oh, my."

For many Nashville Electric Service customers, times are tough.

But our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that, when NES President Decosta Jenkins and other top brass travel, they often stay in the country's fanciest hotels, dine in the swankiest restaurants and quench their thirst -- all at ratepayers' expense.

"Do you drink at ratepayers' expense?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Jenkins.

"No, we do not," he insisted. "When alcohol is involved is involved -- normally it's wine at dinner -- I pick up those costs personally."

Still, last spring, seven NES officials jetted off to Toronto. Two NES board members and the chief financial officer went on a two-night Chamber of Commerce trip at $2,500 a person. Jenkins flew in for one night, along with another board member and two NES executives, to tour Toronto's power company.

Total cost to ratepayers: almost $14,000.

"The attempt was, since I had people already up there for the Chamber trip, to talk the other board members there to learn from Toronto Hydro," Jenkins said.

After just a 30-minute presentation about how Toronto Hydro prices its electric rates, the group headed here to Barberian's Steak House, described by Zagat's restaurant guide as "one of the top steakhouses in Canada." 

Cost of the dinner: $1,400.

"What did they eat for $1,400?" Dorothy Beasley asked.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates got the restaurant to send us the check and discovered that, in addition to steak, it also included lots of drinks.

The bar tab: $372.

"There was wine involved there, and I'm going to pay the company back," the NES president explained.

So why did he not pay the company back before we started asking questions?

"It was an oversight," Jenkins claimed.

Carolyn Adams shook her head, "Paying them to drink -- terrible. That's terrible."

There was also a trip to Washington back in February by Jenkins and five others. The NES president turned in a $93 charge at an airport bar, listed as "refreshments."

"We went to the airport and then I provided them dinner before they went home," Jenkins said, insisting there was no alcohol.

But we got the check from the Jet Rock Bar and Grill. There was a Diet Pepsi, an appetizer sampler and seven beers.

"So why should you and the board be drinking at ratepayers' expense?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Jenkins.

"And we shouldn't."

We noted, "But you were."

"Based on that, it appears I was," he admitted.

Then, there was a trip to the Big Apple. The night before a seminar, Jenkins and Chief Financial Officer Teresa Broyles-Aplin -- the woman who's supposed to be watching the money -- dined together at Gramercy Tavern where, according to Zagat, "you 'pay dearly,' but it's resoundingly declared 'worth it.'"

"You've got to be kidding me," said NES customer Hank Wyatt.

We also got that check and discovered that Jenkins and his aide charged ratepayers for two sea bass dinners, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and two cocktails -- for a total of $225.

Clarification: On Nov. 10, NES told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that it had located a credit card receipt for that $225 charge, and it was only for the two sea bass dinners.  Decosta Jenkins charged the alcohol to his personal credit card.  He has now reimbursed NES for the $225 dinner.

"So why would you charge such an expensive dinner with alcohol to ratepayers?" we asked the NES president.

"Again, your job is like the job I used to have at Deloitte," said Jenkins, referring to his days as an auditor. "You come and you do an investigation. We make mistakes. That was an oversight."

And the next morning the conference agenda shows at 8:15 there was a free continental breakfast, but Jenkins and the chief financial officer charged ratepayers for a $66 meal.

"Why not take advantage of the free continental breakfast?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"We probably should have," he answered.

At that point, an NES public relations person jumped in, saying that Jenkins needed to leave for a meeting.

Still, we had questions about expenses at a Chattanooga hotel where Jenkins charged ratepayers for something called a "Smoovie Card."

"What's a Smoovie?" Carolyn Adams asked.

That, said Jenkins, is a hotel movie card.

"That bothers me," Dorothy Beasley said. "Pay for your own movies. Pay for your own."

So why would Jenkins ask ratepayers for him to watch movies in his room at night?

"I don't think that got charged," Jenkins said, walking away.

"I've got it right here. You want to take a look at it, sir?" we responded.

At that point, another public relations person insisted, "Excuse me, he has to go to a meeting now."

Jenkins walked out.

Earlier this year, Jenkins posted a message on the NES Facebook page, claiming that "we at NES are doing all we can to keep our costs low and to avoid raising our rates."

That was the morning after that $1,400 dinner in Toronto.

Our investigation also discovered that NES executives are not required to turn in detailed receipts, showing exactly what they bought.

Also, while the federal, state and Metro governments all place limits on what their employees can spend in each city, NES has no limits at all.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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