6 Investigates Morristown Utilities Systems salaries, compares s

6 Investigates Morristown Utilities Systems salaries, compares spending to KUB

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The mayor of Morristown is calling for a state audit after a 6 News investigation revealed questionable spending at Morristown Utility Systems. The mayor of Morristown is calling for a state audit after a 6 News investigation revealed questionable spending at Morristown Utility Systems.
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  • 6 Investigates questionable spending by Morristown Utility Systems

    6 Investigates questionable spending by Morristown Utility Systems

    The 6 News I-Team requested records under the Tennessee Open Records Act from more than two dozen public utilities in March 2014. Days after we mailed a public records request to Morristown Utilities System, or MUS, several people reached out to us, asking us to look into excessive spending there.More >>
    The 6 News I-Team requested records under the Tennessee Open Records Act from more than two dozen public utilities in March 2014. Days after we mailed a public records request to Morristown Utilities System, or MUS, several people reached out to us, asking us to look into excessive spending there. More >>
By ALEXIS ZOTOS and RYAN WEBB

MORRISTOWN (WATE) - The mayor of Morristown is calling for a state audit after a 6 News investigation revealed questionable spending at Morristown Utility Systems.

Previous story: 6 Investigates questionable spending by Morristown Utility Systems

A months-long investigation into the utility of around 15,000 customers found thousands spent of travel, fancy dinners and four-star hotels.

Mayor Danny Thomas requested a review of MUS at Tuesday's city council meeting. No one seconded the motion, but the mayor said he plans to pursue other options and that a review is needed.

As we continue to dig through financial statements requested through an open records request, we also analyzed salaries for employees at MUS.

Compensation for employees at Morristown Utility Systems increased as much as 30 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to documents obtained by the 6 News I-Team.

The pay for Jody Wigington, the utility’s general manager, jumped 29 percent between 2009 and 2013, from $118,206 to $152,546. His largest increase, $12.477, or about 10 percent, happened between 2010 and 2011.

Hamblen County’s unemployment rate at that time stayed above 10 percent and higher than the state’s number.

MUS rate payers we spoke to said they couldn’t imagine a $12,000 raise.

“That’s what I make in a year,” said Sherry Eason. She rents a booth space at a shop in downtown Morristown and collects social security.

“They could lower our bills,” she said.

The average income in Morristown is $17,718, according the United States Census Bureau.

Mitchell Long, who paid this month’s bill on the cutoff date, said the same. “I do good to make $12,000 in a year,” he said. “The common people out here are barely making it.”

The 6 News I-Team found a higher percentage increase for Clark Rucker, the utility’s assistant general manager and CFO. He received a 30 percent raise between 2009 and 2013, increasing from $95,742 to $124,445.

His biggest year-to-year pay increase, 10 percent, was also between 2010 and 2011. Rucker’s pay increased at least 5 percent each year from 2009 to 2013.

The three employees following Wigington and Rucker in compensation all received pay increases of at least 22 percent between 2009 and 2013. Bryan Delozier’s pay rose 30.94 percent in that period, 23.67 percent for Mike Howard, and 22.01 percent for Gerald Kinsler.

Read more: MUS compensation records 2009-2013

Wigington refused to speak on camera, but defended the raises in an email sent to 6 News.

“We must attract and retain an educated, highly skilled workforce to be successful in our mission and support key customers,” he said. The raises were part of a five-year goal to “advance our employees to be at or below the mid-range for our industry as compared locally and nationally,” said Wigington. 

City councilman Bob Garrett, who worked at the utility for 42 years before retiring, said salaries at public utilities are traditionally pretty high.

“They are well paid for what they do,” he said. He finds that to be a trend with jobs in the public sector.

“They’re not cutting back. They act like they’re cutting back sometimes, but free enterprise is cutting back because they have to to stay alive,” said Garrett.

He says utilities don’t have to raise rates to pay for higher compensation and expenses, like those revealed in a 6 News I-Team investigation, because “they make money hand over and foot,” Garrett said. “They’re a racket.”

Comparison to Knoxville Utilities Board, a utility serving 444,000 customers

6 News requested expense reports and compensation for KUB in Knoxville. KUB serves 444,000 customers, about 30 times more than Morristown Utility Systems.

KUB’s president and CEO Mintha Roach made $278,846 in 2013, a nine percent increase from her salary of $255,785 in 2009. VP of Business Performance Derwin Hagood made $150,192 last year, a 14 percent salary increase since 2009.

Read more: KUB compensation records 2009-2013


KUB also provided documents related to travel expenses for executives, officers, and board members, in 2013 as part of our open records request. According to documents provided to us, KUB employees spent just more than $9,000 on travel and conferences in the same period. Employees stayed at similarly priced hotels as Morristown Utility Systems but their meal per diem never exceeded $150.

Read more: KUB expense reports

Management at Morristown Utilities System -- Jody Wigington, Clark Rucker, Bryan Delozier, Mike Howard, and George Benjamin -- spent more than $55,000 on travel expenses in 2013. MUS serves a fraction of the customers but spent ten times the amount on travel as KUB.

In an emailed response, Wigington said conferences train employees with new skills in a constantly changing business climate.

“Business trips are certainly not a waste of money,” Wigington said.

Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas was concerned over what he called a “lack of transparency” from Morristown Utility Systems.

“I think it tells a story about how they’re not open to the general public and particular to the press as to how they’re conducting business,” said Thomas.

Morristown Utility Systems charged 6 News around $900 for roughly 700 pages of documents, or about $1.29 per page. Our open records request for KUB was much smaller. They charged us $2 for two discs containing all the records. Had we wanted paper copies, it would have cost 15 cents per page.

Statement from Wigington:

“[The raises] were part of a 5 year goal to advance our employees to be at or below the mid-range for our industry as compared locally and nationally.  As a multiple service utility, we serve a heavy industrial base including three Tier One automotive manufacturers. Our systems have evolved technically over the past 10 years and we must attract and retain an educated, highly skilled workforce to be successful in our mission and support key customers.  Over the past five years, responsibilities have significantly increased due the advent of advanced metering infrastructure, load control, TVA Smart Grid pilots, Fiber-to-the-Home telecommunications, and the recently acquired wastewater responsibilities presently under a TDEC compliance order.”
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