Council Members Request Audit of NES Spending

Council Members Request Audit of NES Spending

CREATED Nov 15, 2011

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Several Metro Council members are asking for an audit of how Nashville Electric Service spend your money.

They told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that people are fed up -- and they want answers.

This all follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation that caught top NES brass wining and dining -- and sticking ratepayers with the bill.

The request for the audit is being led by Councilman Phil Claiborne. He said his constituents don't understand why NES hasn't been tightening its belt -- just like the rest of us.

"Several people have either emailed or called," Claiborne added. "In fact, I got an email this morning that said, 'I can't understand how the Council can let NES do what they are doing."

What they were doing, our investigation discovered, was using ratepayer money for expensive hotel rooms, fancy dinners, even alcohol. For example, there was a dinner at a Toronto restaurant where the total cost -- $1,400 -- included a $372 bar tab.

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

"We shouldn't," he admitted.

Jenkins even charged ratepayers for his hotel movies.

"There is just that level of frustration that says somebody needs to do something -- are you going to do it?" Claiborne added.

So the Council member is sending a letter to Metro's internal audit committee, asking them to audit how the NES board and management document travel and other expenditures, how NES keeps track of credit card charges, what kind of limits it places on travel expenses, as well as whether the NES internal auditor can monitor spending by the board and management when she reports to them.

Claiborne says that, because NES was set up as an independent agency of Metro government, it's not clear that they will even cooperate with such an audit.

"They basically set their own pace and go by their own rules," he said. "They could basically stonewall the audit committee, but if that happens I think that sends a message to the general public that this is an agency that's making a concerted effort not to be transparent."

The Metro Council member said it will be up to the city's audit committee as to whether to go along with his request for them to review NES' books.

So he's collecting the signatures of other Metro Council members, hoping that the more support he gets, the harder it will be for them to say no.

As for those questionable expenditures, NES has assigned people to go back and look for receipts that were never turned in. They say they've found a receipt for one of those fancy dinners and discovered that NES ratepayers were charged for a $225 dinner for two, but not for the alcohol.

Still, at last count, the NES president has paid back more than $800.