Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"One would expect that the toll road would use dollars to alleviate congestion on toll roads."

Hoopin' It Up At The NTTA


Bennett Cunningham
CBS 11 News (DALLAS)
Copyright 2008

The North Texas Tollway Authority [NTTA] is spending a small fortune on things that have nothing to do with building roads.

Instead, it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of your toll money on advertising that comes with a valuable perk, and you don't get to enjoy it. It's an advertisement at the American Airlines Center which reads "TollTag people." This ad is costing you nearly half a million dollars.

We asked the executive director of the Tollway, Jorge Figueredo, why his agency spent the money. He told us "I don't know what the rationale was but I know we are not going to do it under my watch."

The NTTA signed the contract before Mr. Figueredo took charge in August 2007, but it's still in effect. As part of the half-million dollar contract, the NTTA was allowed to put an enormous kiosk in the center's rotunda, where employees sign people up for TollTags.

But the one big plus for the NTTA has nothing to do with advertising. It's the dozens of free tickets they get to Dallas Mavericks and Stars games. When we asked Mr. Figueredo about it, he said "I didn't know we got tickets and I don't know what is done with them."

But we do. A CBS 11 public information request reveals NTTA employees enjoyed some great Dallas Mavericks games. Some of the NTTA staff went to last year's quarterfinal playoff game against the Golden State Warriors, and others attended regular season games against the Spurs, the Pacers, and the Rockets.

But the NTTA claims it gave away lots of the tickets to unnamed "TollTag people." All they had to do was answer trivia questions at the game or sign up for a new toll tag.

Michael Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility thinks this type of spending is outrageous, "one would expect that the toll road would use dollars to alleviate congestion on toll roads."

And the perks don't end on the court--they continue on to the picnic table. The NTTA has a picnic committee. When the NTTA's picnic committee meets, they don't meet in a park or on a picnic blanket. They meet at Pappadeaux Seafood and spend $600 on crawfish and shrimp. When we looked at the receipt for that meeting, it appears they all had such a good time, they forgot how to add. When they totaled the bill with tip, they wrote $602. But when we did the math, we found the total should actually have been $20 dollars less.

After we began asking questions about the NTTA's spending habits, they hired an internal auditor to examine the records. And there are plans to overhaul the NTTA employee spending policy, which was basically nonexistent until our investigation.

A concrete policy may have prevented 2 years of Tollway spending - including $100,000 spent for food: catering and fine dining, more than 4,000 donuts and 2,300 slices of pizza.

And guess what else we discovered? Many times, when NTTA officials ate using your money, the meals were tax free--thanks to the NTTA's tax exempt status. That's right, not only do NTTA officials get to eat on your dime, they did it without paying a red cent in tax to the state. Mr. Figueredo told us "it makes me angry to talk about this and the people know how angry I am about this."

Shortly after we confronted Tollway officials about our investigation, Mr. Figueredo immediately suspended the use of NTTA credit cards for many of these items.

The Tollway's contract at the AAC ends in 2009.

© 2008 CBS Broadcasting Inc.: cbs11tv.com

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