Thanks, East Tennessee Ratepayers, for Deep-Pocketed Support of Nashville Restaurants

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From the Knoxville News Sentinel's website, knoxnews.com comes this story of ratepayer-funded travel and dining by East Tennessee utility management for professional events. Three of the trips were made to Nashville, where a good time was had at The Stock-Yard, The Palm, Hooters and in Brentwood.

The [Blount County] district's three commissioners and three of its employees attended another Tennessee Association of Utility Districts conference, this one in Nashville, records show. On Feb. 15, 2010, the six officials plus the spouse of one employee had dinner at The Stock-Yard Restaurant, running up a tab of $430.20, including a $60 tip.

The meal included a 10-ounce filet for $39.95, a pair of 7-ounce fillets at $33.95 apiece, two rib-eyes at nearly $30 apiece, a lamb lollipop for $15.95, portobello mushrooms for $10.95, shrimp cocktail for $14.95, rooster fries for $9.95, asparagus for $7.95, four salads totaling nearly $33, more than $27 worth of potatoes, steak fries, cream of spinach and two slices of pecan pie for $6.95 each, plus $2.95 for ice cream.

The next night, a group of eight — including three spouses — had dinner at The Palm at a total cost of $458.93.

That tab included a 9-ounce filet for $41.50, a 12-ounce New York strip for $41.50, a $36 order of sea bass, a $30 shrimp saute, a $30 chicken Parmesan, two orders of lobster bisque totaling $21, four salads for $40, a piece of molten chocolate cake for $11, a $10 piece of cheesecake, an $11 order of berries, and five baked potatoes that cost more than $8 apiece.

In the case of the Nashville trip, records show the district did not pay for some expenses incurred by spouses. Sue Hurst, the wife of Commissioner Marshall Hurst, covered a $40.25 portion of the two meals, while the wife of Assistant District Manager Al Scott paid $43.26 for the two meals. ...

Not all of the spending was at high-end establishments. A receipt from July 2010 documented a meal at Hooter's in Nashville that cost $28.65 including tip. Asked about the business purpose of that meal, the district cited an American Water Works conference.

Asked about spending $34 or even $40 for steaks in Nashville, [district manager Henry] Durant said that city has one of the highest per diem expense rates of any Tennessee city, according to federal guidelines. "It's hard to find a good meal in Nashville much cheaper than that, to be honest," he said.

According to the federal General Services Administration, the fiscal year 2010 per diem rate for dinner in Nashville was $34. ...

Brentwood got some of largesse as well, in a golf trip last fall.

In September 2010, four [Jefferson-Cocke County Utility District] employees attended the Tennessee Gas Association's golf tournament in Brentwood, Tenn., which supports scholarships for the children of gas utility employees. The utility district's costs included $460 in event registration fees and more than $450 in meals and lodging.

Rooster fries and Hooters, lobster bisque and $8 baked potatoes. People people people, you can do better.

Bitesters, help East Tennessee's utilities eat better while saving the rate-payers a little money on meals they themselves will never eat. Where should visiting utility workers dine during their next professional development trip to Nashville?

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