Monday, December 03, 2007

"They went, they spent and they partied with your money."

The Investigators

Report Uncovers More Questionable Spending By NTTA


Bennett Cunningham Reporting
CBS 11 News Channel 11 (Dallas/Ft Worth)
Copyright 2007

Vienna, AustriaThey went, they spent and they partied with your money.

Two weeks after an exclusive CBS 11 hidden camera investigation showed North Texas Tollway Authority officials spending tens of thousands of dollars on a first class trip to Europe, more financial records reveal more perks.

According to records obtained by CBS11, North Texas Tollway Deputy Executive Director Rick Herrington arrived to the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association Tollway conference in Vienna, Austria 3 days before it started.

According to those documents, Herrington billed the NTTA for meals on those non-conference days, sometimes at the maximum daily rate of $149. Herrington did not provide any receipts in the documents obtained by CBS11.

When CBS11 attempted to ask Herrington about it, a NTTA public relations assistant quickly escorted him away before answering any questions. Later, a representative said Herrington acted in accordance with NTTA policy.

CBS11 also examined more of Herrington's expense reports and found he billed the NTTA $154 for Internet access while in Vienna before the conference began. He also charged a $25 airline fee for his extra heavy luggage and $50 for 2 phone adapters to the NTTA.

Herington also put in for food reimbursement on the same day he flew on an American Airlines plane, where he received lunch and dinner. He submitted meal reimbursement for $149.

CBS11 first reported how five NTTA representatives traveled to Vienna for an international conference on tollways, costing tollway users more than $42,000.

CBS11 cameras watched as some NTTA representatives enjoyed the high life, partying every night and eating catered dinners in castles with open bars. The cameras were also rolling as some went souvenir shopping and sightseeing instead of attending the conference.

Three NTTA representatives chose to fly business class at a cost of $7,000 per ticket. All this happened days after the tollway raised your rates to drive on the tollway.

This type of behavior outraged State Senator John Carona, a Dallas Republican, who was surprised that the state government currently has no power to audit the NTTA. He said that he would fight to give the Auditors Office the power to audit the NTTA.

Carona called it "a glaring mistake and something we need to do something about... We also need to make sure the travel policy mirrors the state. The state is very frugal with its money and the same policy should apply to the NTTA."

Many of the receipts from the Vienna trip are still not available for public review. The ones CBS11 did get have been blacked out like a top-secret government document.

Carona points out, "The real thing the public expects is disclosure and open records, and that's what has been lacking in this."

Expense reports from the NTTA's Chief Financial Officer Susan Buse show her bill for air and hotels far exceeds any other top-level employee at the NTTA. Buse controls the purse strings and is now the president of the IBTTA, which puts on the lavish conferences like the one in Vienna.

It has been nearly two months since her Vienna trip, and the NTTA still has not provided her hotel receipts. A copy of her $7,000 business class airline ticket shows she arrived in Vienna five days early. When asked about her spending, she said, "I'm not going to talk about that now."

Records obtained from an earlier trip to Boston show Buse charged the NTTA for an amphibious boat tour on the Charles River. A spokesperson said she has written a check to reimburse the agency.

NTTA Executive Director Jorge Figueredo said he wants to change the type of culture uncovered by CBS11. "I'm going to make it clear, when we go to work we go to work," he said.

If you want to tell the NTTA how you feel about its policies, click here for their contact information. Or you can go to the December 19 NTTA board meeting to speak your mind.

© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE