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BPU Admits Mistake

The president of the utility board comes clean that officials abused their expense accounts.

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The Board of Public Utilities admitted last week that high-ranking officials abused company credit cards by spending thousands of dollars on meals, beer and tickets to sporting events.

During the February 21 board meeting, board President Mary Gonzales read a statement promising that the BPU was "fully and totally committed to addressing these issues to ensure proper compliance."

That promise contradicts a statement Gonzales read at the January 17 board meeting, when Gonzales claimed that the BPU's ethics commission had "determined that no policies or procedures were violated" ("Significant Denial," February 22).

Not so. The ethics commission had found what its report called "significant abuses" of credit card policies and procedures by members of BPU management.

The ethics commission's investigation of expense accounts began after the Pitch reported that BPU administrators were reimbursed for more than $15,000 worth of food and entertainment, including tickets to the Big 12 football championship game and pricey meals at the Savoy Grill and the Cigar Box ("Lunch Money," November 30, 2006).

In February, ethics commission Chairman Mike Price sent the BPU a letter questioning the board's refusal to admit that violations had taken place. Price's letter urged the board "to take ownership of the fact that violations occurred in the past and repledge themselves to diligently monitor the program to ensure those violations don't happen again."

Gonzales and General Manager Don Gray then met with Price and Ethics Administrator George Fredrickson. Afterward, Gonzales produced a new statement. "We recognize that the ethics commission believes there previously were violations of policies and procedures regarding the use of procurement cards," Gonzales said in her prepared remarks.

Even though Gonzales came clean about the mistakes, the board still hasn't adopted the ethics commission's recommendations as BPU policy. Gonzales tells the Pitch that it's "definitely something we'll be looking into."

"Now, to say that would become policy, I'm only one person," Gonzales continues. "I would think that probably would be a valid thing to look into. Whether we turn it into that later on down the road, maybe that would cause less confusion. That's a thought."

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