When you pay your electric bill you probably don't think your paying for people to attend baseball games and concerts. A NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered some surprising entertainment expenses at the TVA.
The expenses uncovered in our exclusive investigation include: golf at private clubs, stays at hotel casinos and tickets to pro sporting events. They have nothing to do with providing electricity, but you're paying for all those things every time you pay your utility bill.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates has learned that in 2008, the TVA wined and dined everyone from power distributors, business prospect, and their own employees at events such as a Kenny Chesney Concert at Ford Field in Detroit. The total cost was nearly $6,000.
A New York Yankees baseball game in the Bronx cost more than $4,500. Rounds of golf at private courses cost nearly $25,000.
Last November, NewsChannel 5 Investigates filed a Freedom of Information Request with TVA asking for its entertainment expenses for the first ten months of 2008. Seven months later, TVA responded with four pages of expenses totaling more than $120,000.
Just one month before TVA's board voted to raise rates last year because of rising costs, the agency spent more than $2,000 at a Chicago Cubs game.
Ratepayers like Lori Lormand in Gallatin seemed shocked.
"It's not right that they're able to blow money like that. That's what I would consider blowing money," said Lormand.
She just received a $207 electric bill for the month. Lormand has cut her family's entertainment to pay her utilities and other bills.
"I think that's wrong because their entertainment should go somewhere to cut my electric bill down," said Lormand.
TVA's senior vice president of government and Valley relations, Emily Reynolds, defended the baseball games and concert saying they involve business prospects and help create jobs.
"With some of these expenses we are remaining true to TVA's core mission and that is economic development," said Reynolds.
She listed some job growth in the Tennessee Valley over the last two years.
"41,000 jobs in 2007, 42,000 jobs in 2008," said Reynolds.
Investigative reporter Ben Hall asked, "Do you believe that's because of a baseball game or a Kenny Chesney concert?"
"I think it's a broad brush stroke, we have to educate folks outside of the Valley about the quality of life here," responded Reynolds.
Some expenses appear to violate TVA's own policies including a $355 membership fee to a country club in Mississippi. TVA's policy prohibits individual country club memberships.
"Does that violate TVA's policy?" asked Hall.
"That was a corporate membership and we no longer maintain that membership," responded Reynolds.
NewsChannel 5 showed the list of expenses to Congressman Bart Gordon.
"After Channel 5 brought this to our attention we went to them and said, you know, 'explain this' and they really couldn't," said Gordon, D-Murfreesboro.
"Look at all this," said Gordon as he reviewed the expenses. "You see this one for $107 for Ye Ol' Pipe Shop in Jackson Tennessee, stakeholder gifts and tobacco products?"
The biggest cost was for something called Customer Appreciation Events. The total was $37,000. One of the many events was at Mississippi Hotel and Casino.
The customers getting appreciated were power distributors - even though distributors don't have many options about where they get their power.
"Is it worth $37,000 on customer appreciation events?" asked Hall.
"I think in terms of cultivating relationships it's an important part of what we do," responded Reynolds.
Reynolds said TVA has temporarily stopped its spending on sporting events, concerts and even on customer appreciation events.
"We have ceased these kinds of expenses for the foreseeable future because we recognize that it is a tough economic climate," said Reynolds.
Lori Lormand is glad the TVA understands what so many rate payers are experiencing.
"Bills keep getting higher not lower. Where's my entertainment?" asked Lormand.
Congressman Bart Gordon is calling on the TVA's Office of Inspector General to investigate the expenses. TVA says it has cut that kind of spending.
If you want to take a stand on TVA spending you can call Senators Lamar Alexander or Bob Corker. The U.S. Senate is responsible for approving four new members to TVA's board.
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