BRISTOL, TN (WJHL) – A week after a Tennessee Comptroller’s Office special investigation raised questions about longtime Bristol Tennessee Essential Services CEO Dr. Mike Browder board members offered their support.
For the first time since the state released its findings the public utility’s board met Wednesday, on Browder’s birthday. The CEO spent part of his birthday apologizing, pledging to do better and answering question after question from Bristol City Councilwoman and BTES Board Member Michelle Denise.
“What behaviors or way of doing business is going to change so that we can earn citizens’ and ratepayers’ trust back?” she asked Browder during the hour-and-a-half-long meeting.
A state Comptroller’s Office investigation released last week questioned whether the CEO had ratepayers’ best interests at heart when he arranged a multi-million dollar deal with Carina Technology to buy a water heater switch. Browder’s name is among those on the patent for that switch. In addition, investigators said he failed to disclose the conflict of interest with the entire BTES board, along with information about payments he made to the financially struggling Alabama company that helped keep it afloat.
“I think that it has shown a weakness in our operations and it gives us something really to work on and to change and to hopefully do a better job moving forward,” Denise said after the meeting.
From here on out the BTES board and CEO promise to be more transparent.
“More information, more oversight and more control, more attention,” BTES Chairman Bryan Boyd said.
Browder admitted if he could do it all over again he would handle it differently.
“The lack of any information people would have liked to have I apologize for that,” he said. “I didn’t keep everybody informed as I wished I had…I would have given more information about the things that I knew. I would have told more people about the patent.”
Some board members commended Browder’s handling of the deal, saying his efforts helped BTES ensure it received the parts it needed and stayed on the cutting edge of technology.
Browder maintains the deal continues to save ratepayers money, saying that was his intent all along.
“The end result of what we did is where we need to be,” he said. “To get the outcome we got we needed to get there. It was a lot of work doing it the way we’re doing it, but it still was the best result.”
Although the majority of the board didn’t need convincing, eventually even Denise walked away convinced that Browder acted in BTES’ best interest.
“It could have been a little smoother, it could have been less ugly, but I do believe that ultimately it was in the best interest of everyone involved,” she said. “I wish that it would have came along differently, but I think that with the exposure it’s given us a chance to make some corrections about how we’re going to move forward and do business.”
Browder says he planning to now transfer the patent for that water switch out of his name. He says BTES continues to have a difference of opinion about the state’s investigation. Auditors have alerted the district attorney and U.S. Attorney’s Office about their findings.
“The findings in our investigative reports speak for themselves,” spokesperson John Dunn said Wednesday. “The information presented is factual and can be substantiated with evidence.”