Utility district manager's retirement party cost customers $6,45 - WRBL

Utility district manager's retirement party cost customers $6,452

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GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL) -

Water customers at two Greene County utility districts helped throw a more than $6,400 retirement bash for the woman who helped lead the districts for many years.

The guest of honor, Shirley Collins, and three family members remain on unpaid administrative leave.

Tuesday, we told you the longtime Chuckey and Cross Anchor Utility manager made almost $140,000 in 2012, which included a more than $28,000 bonus; a bonus Chuckey Board President John Carter said board members never authorized.

Collins and three of her family members are on administrative leave pending the outcome of a state investigative audit into several issues at the utilities, including her pay, board members have confirmed.

This summer's retirement party may be something else that catches auditors' eyes.

Employees say the so-called "retirement fun fest" took place at Collins' home on a Friday night in late June. They say roughly 50 people who've worked with Shirley attended. Employees say the next day they were told Collins held a retirement party for her family and friends at the same location.

Who authorized the expenses? According to the itemized receipts, Collins' daughter, acting manager Kandie Jennings approved the expenses. Jennings is among the family members on unpaid administrative leave.

When Cross Anchor Utility District board members gave the go-ahead for the district to throw a send-off for Collins, Secretary Lynn Foshee says they expected it to be reasonable. However, he admits the board never set any guidelines for the cost.

"We just said to have a retirement party for Shirley because she had been manager for so many years out of respect for her," Foshee said.

Now he and others are learning the utility spared no expense.

"We trusted them to do it and do the right thing," Cross Anchor Utility Board President Lloyd Dawson said.

According to board members, the party itself wasn't all that memorable. However, the cost won't be something they soon forget.

"There were tents, they did have some live music, there was, seems to me, there was a waterslide," Dawson said. "That's basically all I can remember."

They say on the night of the party it didn't look like it was going to be that expensive.

However, receipts revealed dinner alone cost $1,944 and included 40 racks of ribs, 50 pounds of pulled pork, corn pudding and baked beans, That's the equivalent of almost a rack of ribs and pound of pork per person for the Friday night affair.

Foshee thinks that cost was reasonable for the roughly 50 people who attended, but then we told him about how much the utilities paid for the rentals.

"Does that bother you looking back on it?' I asked him. "Yeah, it does."

The total cost paid to Grand Rental Station was around $2,800.

"You didn't expect it would be that much though?" I asked. "No, I didn't."

Among the items rented, according to receipts, three tents for $940, an inflatable waterslide for $275, an inflatable movie screen and projector that combined cost $260, a PA system for $150, a slush machine for $55, hot dog machine for $40, cotton candy machine for $40 and "Spookie Fruitie Grape" flavored cotton candy mix for $5.99.

We found another $1,708.23 in "miscellaneous" and other expenses related to the party, according to receipts. Receipts revealed those expenses included $300 for a Beatles cover band, hundreds for supplies, $194.35 for a sheet cake with toy trucks on it and $451.41 for a couple of leather guestbooks and journals with inscriptions on two of them.

"In recognition and sincere appreciation for 30 years of passion, dedication and leadership Shirley K. Collins you have set an example to be followed in the future and cherished by those of us that were fortunate enough to have experienced it for ourselves," the inscription authorized by her daughter said.

Food, rentals and miscellaneous expenses combined, the total bill for the retirement fun fest came in at $6,452.23.

Board members say they're partly to blame for the lack of control at the office.

"Do any of these numbers bother you?" I asked Dawson. "Yes they do, they really do. There's some extravaganza there that really should have been avoided. I think we trusted people to do their job and had been well pleased up until last year."

Board members say they put their trust in the wrong people and never authorized the actual expenses.

"We just thought she would manage the people's money a little better for something like that," Foshee said. "I think this has been going on for awhile. I just hope we can get to the bottom of something and can see."

They say in the future they'll be more aware of the day-to-day operations and how much money the utilities spend.

Customer Bill Gass hopes so.

"You know what it sounds like to me?" he asked. "They just give her a checkbook and open up the bank to them."

Two other expenses caught our eye. Last year, Cross Anchor Utility District threw a $1,900 Christmas party at an area restaurant for employees, their immediate families and the engineering firm that works with the utility. The bill included a tip of more than 20% and 15 desserts to go.

Meanwhile, Chuckey Utility District's 2012 Christmas party cost $2,200. That party also included a more than 20% tip and 20 desserts to go.

The Cross Anchor Utility Board considers the party to be the equivalent of a gift or bonus to its employees. That said, Dawson says board members are going to take another look at the way they throw Christmas parties this year, if they even decide to throw one. Dawson says they will define exactly who can be invited to control the cost. He says another option may be to forgo a Christmas party and just give employees time off instead.

Our attempts to reach both Collins and her daughter Jennings again today have been unsuccessful.

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