Less than 24 hours after a Bristol Virginia Utilities board member called out the utility for questionable credit card spending and possible criminal activity, BVU Interim President and CEO Mike Bundy sent out an email to board members aimed at clearing the air.
The email comes in the midst of a criminal investigation into BVU by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
BVU’s attorney previously told us the utility had no comment about the criminal investigation. Today Bundy shared with us an email he sent to board members following our report Monday night.
“What was accomplished in the media interview was a devastating morale blow to our employee base,” Bundy concluded the email saying. “The same employee base that has kept the lights on, water running, and bandwidth flowing without pause, during a CEO resignation, a criminal investigation and a culture change that is dramatic. I will be doing my best to restore employee confidence and morale through a series of employee town hall meetings starting today. The damage done to our consumer confidence will not be so quickly repaired.” Multiple times in the email, Bundy made it clear BVU has made major strides over the last several months to improve things that he admits needed to be improved.
“All of these items that were addressed last night have already been in the process of being improved and the benefits to the rate payers have already begun being realized,” Bundy wrote. “Most of the improvements and savings began months and months ago. There is not a single item mentioned in the interview that management, the board, and/or staff have not either completely eliminated or at a minimum put in place processes to capture savings.”
According to Bundy’s email, BVU implemented credit card purchasing changes in August 2013.
“Credit Card purchases certainly are an area of improvement for BVU to create savings and efficiencies for the customers,” Bundy wrote. “To that end please see the below changes that have been made starting in August of this year. The results are self-explanatory. The process changes that have been implemented increased individual accountability to and scrutiny of every credit card charge. The documentation on each charge is reviewed by the CEO personally and signed off on as to appropriate or inappropriate. This process change has led to thousands of dollars saved each month.”
In the email, Bundy provided a savings chart that shows BVU has saved roughly $40,000 or almost 35% from 2012 to 2013 when it comes to its credit card spending.
Bundy also explained, in the note, every purchase in our report.
1) “BVU catered a retirement dinner for Linda Davis from the Outback Steakhouse,” Bundy said. “The bill for that dinner was under $20.00 per plate totaling $3600.00. Linda spent 34 years as an employee of BVU and gave to our community through her service, United Way donations, and volunteering for over 100 community events during her tenure. Celebrating her service for a $20.00 per plate lunch is something worthwhile, and although not done on my watch, I would be proud to take responsibility for that charge.”
2) “There certainly was no Pizza Party when Wes Rosenbalm resigned,” Bundy said. “On 8/28 we had Pizza Plus cater a lunch for the employees that cost around the $1600.00 mark that was mentioned in the interview. In this lunch BVU kicked off our leadership portion of the Bristol United Way campaign. During this lunch, BVU employees donated $20,945.67 of their own money to help our friends and neighbors in the region that need a hand. Again, I would say that is worth celebrating.”
3) “BVU spent $600.00 dollars at the Troutdale on September 3, 2013,” Bundy said. “This was a ‘Live United at the Troutdale’ fund raiser for the United Way in our community. The local United Way requested our support and we gladly provided it.”
4) “In the last five months there are a handful of individual charges to Chic-Fil-A and Starbucks, but as the CEO I approved them because they were on approved travel,” Bundy said. “The local (Chick-fil-A) does have some charges to it as they provided food for the employees during the storm and cable TV outages and training that we have had in the recent months. However those charges are pre-approved and bring a specific benefit to the rate payers of Bristol, Virginia. To see that benefit during the next storm, turn on your lights and change the channel on your television because both will be working way before other systems in the region. This is in no small part due to the employees that don’t go home until its right and yes they have to eat.”
Regardless of the Chick-fil-A and Starbucks charges over the last five months, Washington County Sheriff’s Office Senior Detective James Blevins previously said his investigation includes 18 months worth of credit card expenses from April 2012 to September 2013.
“I’ve looked at credit card records for a several month period, credit cards that were issued to employees for certain purposes,” Blevins said. “What is questionable is what activities took place on those credit card accounts. Why were they used for certain purchases and that’s what I’m looking at?”
Bundy also addressed a loan program that was available to employees for years but was recently stopped due to a “potential perception issue.”
“Although not mentioned directly but alluded to, the 143 loan program was a long standing program where the employees could make purchases of computers and other items and have the amounts payroll deducted off a contracted number of pay periods,” Bundy said. “Although there is no financial loss to BVU in the program because the employees pay every penny back to the company and sign a contract to the same, the potential perception issue with the program doesn’t justify the benefit of it so the program has been suspended as of last month and no new loans are being approved.”
Despite BVU’s emails, BVU Board Member Doug Fleenor says he stands behind his concerns and feels time will tell the whole story about this situation.
“It’s always shoot the messenger, instead of the message,” Fleenor said. “I’m glad the people know. I’ll stand behind 18 months of charges on BVU accounts by employees, unauthorized by the BVU board.”
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