Water District Officials Drink $9 Sodas and Leave $400 Tip While Rates Rise

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports: “Top brass at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California sometimes live large and charge the region’s ratepayers for it. Their world includes $9 room-service soda, $35 racks of lamb, $50 bottles of wine and $400 hotel rooms.”

The newspaper examined receipts and expense forms from 2009 and 2010, and found that the water district’s five top managers spent more than $160,000 on travel and related expenses during those two years.

On the plus side, the investigation found that most of the charges were routine travel charges like cab rides, modestly priced meals and reasonably priced hotel rooms. And administrators commonly reimbursed the agency for in-room movies, spouses’ expenses and alcoholic beverages.

However, the newspaper also found expenses that “raise questions about Metropolitan’s dedication to cutting costs across its $1.6 billion budget during an era when water rates have jumped by more than 60 percent in four years across the region.” The spending included:

  • A 20-person lunch at the Waterbar in San Francisco, at a cost of $1,861.50, including a $400 gratuity.

  • Dinner for six at a San Diego steakhouse, totaling $680 (or $113 per person).

  • Dinner for six in Las Vegas, totaling $788. The guests, who were not water district employees, included five of the same people from the San Diego dinner one week earlier.

  • The district’s chief financial officer stayed at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York City, described as “one of the most sought-after hotels in New York,” for $342 per night.

  • The agency’s chief administrator stayed at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., for $468 per night.

(Source: San Diego Union-Tribune, March 5.)

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