Coon Supper (Photo: Matthew Craig, The Commercial Appeal)
From Phil Williams:
The University of Tennessee says it's watching every dime. It even required top executives to park their state vehicles.
But the UT plane is still flying -- and giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "pork spending."
In this case, UT spent a couple of thousand dollars to shoot the breeze with a bunch of politicians over a little barbeque and some baked beans -- and you paid for it.
Last Thursday, I spotted the UT plane out at the Nashville airport, as it stopped to pick up three passengers.
The plane was on its way from Knoxville to Covington, over in West Tennessee.
After just three hours on the ground there, it turned around and flew back across the state.
So what was the important state business that required a cross-state flight that cost you $2,200?
It was the annual Coon Supper, hosted by former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
The Coon Supper is an annual political tradition.
The governor was there, along with lawmakers from both parties, special-interest lobbyists and local-government officials.
On board UT's "Coon Supper Express" this year were seven UT executives and an alumni representative.
According to the university, they were:
Hank Dye, Vice President, Public and Government Relations, UT System
Dr. Joe DiPietro, Vice President, UT Institute for Agriculture
Dr. Mary Jinks, Vice President, UT Institute for Public Service
Alvin Payne, Associate Vice President, UT Capital Projects
Anthony Haynes, Associate Vice President, UT State Relations
Margie Nichols, Vice Chancellor, Communications, UT Knoxville,
Joan Cronan, UT Women's Athletics Director
Emmett Edwards, Volunteer Chairman, UT Alumni Legislative Council
But, with UT facing serious budget problems, was it really worth the money?
UT spokesman Hank Dye says:
"When you look at who all is there, it's a pretty widely shared view that it's an important place to be. It's an opportunity, on a very informal basis, to have conversation and build relationships."
He adds that "even in tough times, you've still got to do business."
In a separate written statement, Dye said that, if the UT executives had driven, that would have taken them out of their offices for a lengthy period of time.
"Bottom-line cost effectiveness, including good use of staff time, is the consideration for using the airplane. Use of the airplane on this occasion enabled eight people to work at the event -- a 700-mile round trip from Knoxville -- after working almost a full day in their offices, and return home by the end of the evening."
The question is, with jobs being cut, would anyone really have objected if they had just skipped the barbeque to save taxpayers some bread?