MORRISTOWN (WATE) – We’ve received mostly positive responses to our series of stories on the spending habits of the Morristown Utilities System.
In fact, many viewers urged us to continue to look deeper into the operations of MUS.
Of course, not everyone was happy. A few described our work as sensational and a disservice to the people of Morristown and to the employees of the Utility.
Certainly our aim was not to disparage the work of the Utility or the workers, but I’m not sure how it’s a disservice to open the books of a public utility and take a look at how they’re spending rate payers’ money.
I guess any citizen could’ve done it, but it’s not cheap. For access and copies of what are public documents, we were charged more than $900.
They said it took man-hours to gather the information and that involved a cost to them. Fair enough, we paid up.
We also requested similar information from KUB. They charged us $2. Reporter Alexis Zotos and producer Ryan Webb spent months combing through documents detailing out of town trips, dinners, parties and giveaways.
We took our findings to Morristown Councilman Bob Garrett, who said the information “shocked” and “disappointed” him. We also sought out Mayor Danny Thomas, not the other way around as some have suggested.
When confronted with our data, he described the spending as “lavish,” and has urged Council to call for a state audit. But not every Councilman is shocked or disappointed. On Wednesday, Councilman Gary Chesney made light of our reporting, suggesting it was “show business” and that Council shouldn’t “nit-pick” the Utility’s spending.
Chesney said it was the Utility Board’s responsibility to oversee MUS. He’s right there. It is the Board’s responsibility. So why aren’t they questioning some of the spending?
Is it because they like the perks of out of state travel, nice hotels and expensive meals? Maybe they feel, like MUS head Jody Wigington, that since the spending amounts to just .08 percent of total revenue it’s OK. After all.. it’s not that much money.
Wigington would not agree to an interview but did send an email: “We feel these conferences are important and essential to operations and management. We evaluate the meetings and conferences and select the few that best help us improve our services.”
Meetings and conferences can result in learning. We understand the concept of best practices. We get that, but is it necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on meals when you travel? Or $19.95 for an in-room movie? Or $10,000 in giveaways at a company party?
Is anyone paying attention to what’s actually being spent? And shouldn’t there be guidelines? At some point in the future, MUS may need to ask for a rate hike.
They might have a better time convincing people it’s necessary if they can answer those questions.
One other point, those select few conferences for MUS executives amounted to more than $55,000 in travel spending last year. Compare that to KUB, which has a much larger service area. They spent $9,000 during that same period.