published Sunday, August 5th, 2012

EPB workers rake it in

Having trouble paying your EPB electric bill?

Well, EPB employees aren't. And that's a big reason why your electricity costs are so high.

Chattanooga's government-owned electric company showers its employees with salaries that many hard-working Chattanoogans could only dream of.

According to public records compiled on this paper's "Right2Know" website, EPB paid 52 of its 552 employees more than $100,000 a year in 2011.

By comparison, the City of Chattanooga, which has nearly four times more employees, has only 19 employees who earn more than $100,000 annually.

That fact should outrage city employees. After all, the city ultimately owns EPB, and if the electricity monopoly loses money or defaults on the nearly $400 million in bonds it is currently paying down, tax dollars will be used to bail out the utility company -- likely resulting in a city budget shortfall and, ultimately, layoffs to city employees.

As the mayor of Chattanooga, Ron Littlefield pulled in $146,607 last year. Six EPB employees made more than that, led by EPB President Harold DePriest with a salary of $206,086.

Other EPB employees cashing big paychecks courtesy of electric and fiber customers in 2011 include:

• Greg Eaves, chief financial officer -- $187,096

• David Wade, chief operating officer -- $186,848

• Steve Clark, vice president of strategic systems -- $158,829

• Jim Ingraham, vice president of strategic research -- $143,811

• Danna Bailey, vice president of corporate communications -- $134,989

• Coleman Keane, director of fiber technologies -- $131,453

EPB's head lobbyist, Diana Bullock, makes $145,829 annually -- largely to convince federal, state and local governments to pour more tax dollars into EPB projects.

Katie Espeseth, who runs EPB's taxpayer-subsidized fiber optics scheme, snagged $136,677 in 2011. The senior vice president of customer relations, Kathy Burns, certainly has a reason to be kind to EPB customers. They funded her $148,928 salary in 2011.

The average Chattanooga resident annually earns $23,434, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average salaried EPB employee, however, rakes in more than two and a half times that much -- $63,387 a year.

Out of EPB's 552 salaried employees in 2011, not a single one made less than the average Chattanoogan last year.

Naturally, those exorbitant salaries are passed right on to the customer.

EPB estimates their average August residential electric bill will top $146. Subsidizing EPB employees' hefty paychecks makes up a considerable chunk of that cost.

Fiber customers who fork out their hard-earned cash for EPB's telephone, cable and Internet offerings also pay higher costs for those services so EPB bigwigs can live high on the hog.

In this time of economic hardship, many families are struggling just to keep their power turned on. It's outrageous that so many of the dollars that Chattanooga-area residents fork over to EPB ultimately end up paying the bloated salaries of the utility provider's workers.

48
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John_Proctor said...

Unless there is some sort of mega storm that disrupts the system, the lights come on when I flip the switch as do the other assorted electrical things I use. The cash I chunk out for fiber services provides me with a service that is superior to any of the previous 3 providers I tried and ditched. If these salaries are the price of a functioning system, so be it.

BTW, how much do YOU make? I'll be more impressed with this numerical trivia when I see YOUR salary posted and available for comment. Granted you're not a public entity but if they have to show you "theirs," lets see "yours."

August 5, 2012 at 12:41 a.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

Am I reading the right side of the paper? I thought class envy belonged on the left side. $146 a month... try to get that bill anywhere else in the country. Heck try to get that as your water bill in some other areas of the country.

or this jewel... Fiber customers who fork out their hard-earned cash for EPB's telephone, cable and Internet offerings also pay higher costs for those services so EPB bigwigs can live high on the hog. Nice. Maybe if the cost is to high those customers should switch to free digital signal for local programing and go to the nearest free hot spot to get online. It's been working for me for a couple years now and I don't have to be envious of others. I save about $200 a month without cable and internet / home phone. More than enough to pay my less than average power bill. So maybe we should let the free market decide. Of course I do know the difference between a want and a need.

August 5, 2012 at 12:47 a.m.

Wow, upset over averages again?

Yet why do you compare EPB employees to the average resident in the city? That number includes students, fast-food workrs, and other unskilled labor. It includes people just entering the workforce, and may well include people working part-time. Did you control for the education level or anything else, so you're comparing valid groups, or do you just expect us to believe your lying statistics as usual?

Heck, you're expecting us to believe YOUR claim that employee's hefty paychecks are the problem in the bills. But you didn't even do the math, did you? Take the actual average revenues. Figure out what the salary rate is. Then give us the numbers. I dare you.

Nah, you're just attacking because they're evil government workers, and that means they're a target to you. No need to be accurate.

Besides, you keep treating the Fiber bundle as a rip-off, but have you compared that to Comcast's? No?

Why not?

August 5, 2012 at 12:53 a.m.
fairmon said...

Run city government as efficiently as EPB and higher compensation may be appropriate. If city government employee qualifications were comparable compensation could be compared. Make a comparison of like work in the private sector and compensation for most city positions would be reduced while EPB compensation would likely be justified. An independent compensation survey and audit of city government finances would be most interesting.

August 5, 2012 at 3:23 a.m.
ldurham said...

Let's see, Mr. Drew Johnson. According to my records, my subscription rates to the TFP have gone up (again) recently. And I'm helping pay your salary. So, do I have a right2know? How much do you make, sir? As well as your fellow "executives" like publisher, editors, and managers. (Sounds of crickets chirping....) I'll wait right here for your timely response.

August 5, 2012 at 8:12 a.m.
UjokinRIGHTQ said...

Drew dear, keeping your electrical power running safely and efficiently requires a lot more than sitting at a computer keyboard and getting a cramp in your pinky finger from spewing out senseless and incoherent tirades. Not to mention the dangers involved for electrical linemen,some who have been electrocuted on the job when they have to deal with downed LIVE electrical wiring.

Individuals who have no knowledge of the inner-workings and dangers of certain jobs shouldn't cast stones.

With the exception of my July bill, July being an extremely hot month, I've been able to keep my bill well under 100 bucks a month, and I have a seven room house. My July bill was only slightly more than 100 bucks. People need to learn to diversify their power usage to save money, by learning to rely on more than one source to heat, cook and cool their homes.

August 5, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.
ITguy said...

The CEO of Comcast gets 31.1 Million Dollars a year. I guess the editorial writer would like for us to send him even more. At least Harold DePriest spends his money in Chattanooga.

August 5, 2012 at 9:19 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Harold DePriest is a gov. empire builder. EPB preempted the private sector and expanded their services into areas that a supply and demand economy would have more equipped and better suited to supply. A taxpayer revenue business model fails miserably. A profit model, based upon supply and demand is what made our Country great, and has a proven track record of success.

Clearly, EPB is top heavy in 6 figure employees based upon reasonable comparisons to local government, and other gov utilities.

The private sector would have provided the same EPB services in an incremental approach to ensure a capital investment return. Instead, EPB wanted to capture the entire market, and went extraordinarily into debt to the tune of $400 million to preempt the private sector from responding with supply and demand services. EPB's internet service model is not self sustaining due to EPB's taxpayer revenue model approach, because the demand did not exist, and they over supplied. Proof in point, they have 12 customers for their gig service.

Taxpayers should demand that our local governments stop competing with the private sector and funding unfair business practices in Pilot agreements and TIF's. The taxpayers will never realize a capital investment return for the Chattanoogan Hotel, which Chattanooga gov should sell, even at a loss, along with the boat docks taxpayers built, that we rent for a dollar. Finally, they should stop using taxpayer dollars to compete with TAC Air at the Airport.

Gov. fund emergency services and pick up the garbage, and let the free market of supply and demand drive our economy. Gov needs to perform their chartered mission as prescribed by the voters.

August 5, 2012 at 10:24 a.m.
rosebud said...

OK, Mr. Free Press Editorial Writer, I agree with those who are asking for your salary, along with your publisher, editors, dept. heads, columnists. Subscribers (bill-payers) have a right2know, especially since your prices keep going up. How about it? You can start with yours, don't be shy. You're all about open information, aren't you? So what's the starting salary for a brand-new editorial writer? I'm sure your fellow TFP heroes won't mind revealing theirs too, because they demand openness.

August 5, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.
aae1049 said...

I am simply amazed at the number of posters here that do not make a distinction between public vs. private sector's responsibility to disclose. No wonder, the taxpayers are getting ripped off by EPB, and other taxpayer subsidized business through Pilots and TIF's.

The TFP does not accept one nickle of taxpayer funds and therefore is NOT, let me repeat, NOT subject to open records. Frankly, it is none of your business on how free market business spends, or what the private sector pays. The private sectors do not accept taxpayer money, EPB does.

$200,000 a year salary is not a public servant, it is a job.

August 5, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
FrankC said...

EPB employees are public servants who have, along with several other community organizations, brought this community into the 21st century with better technology and made us competitive. Harold DePriest works for $200k per year? You won't find another CEO of a company that's done as much as EPB working for $200k. Give that man a raise. Thankful for EPB and don't appreciate the new editor's effort to taint what they've done for this city.

August 5, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.
rosebud said...

Don't be amazed. We're fully aware that the TFP is not subject to open records law. It's just interesting that they love to shine the light on big-salaried public servants, utility employees and hospital workers, yet they're very shy about releasing their own salaries...which I help pay.

August 5, 2012 at 11:38 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Rosebud, what is wrong with shining the light on government activities and spending practices? I want more of this, not less.

Watchdog groups have been monitoring this, as well.

http://tennessee.watchdog.org/2011/12/21/chattanooga-residents-get-internet-courtesy-of-taxpayers/

August 5, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
rosebud said...

I think it's fine. Would love to see how the TFP execs stack up against all the people they criticize. And would love to know why subscription and ad rates keep increasing. Wouldn't you?

August 5, 2012 at 11:58 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Rosebud, my Granny was a lifelong journalist and newspaper editor, the pay ain't great. Have a great day.

August 5, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.
rosebud said...

Yeah, I bet it's paltry. Let's put it out there so the people who pay the bills can see it. Drew? Drew? Are you still out there, buddy?

August 5, 2012 at 12:12 p.m.
01centare said...

Anyone who believes, or tries to convince others to believe, the private sector doesn't receive taxpayer money, or handouts from the federal government, is sorely naive. There is not a privately owned or established company that hasn't or doesn't receive government funding in some form.

August 5, 2012 at 12:20 p.m.
aae1049 said...

01Centare, please identify one taxpayer subsidy the TFP has received.

August 5, 2012 at 12:37 p.m.
moon4kat said...

Comparing apples and oranges, the FP whines that EPB employees average higher salaries than city employees. No mention is made of the different skill sets required for the various jobs in question. (Electricians vs. meter readers?)
The FP editorial writer should be embarrassed to publish such a simplistic, and patently dumb, attempt at equivalency.

August 5, 2012 at 12:44 p.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

Good point Moonkat.. I too would like to know how much is it worth? How much is it worth to go out in a storm with a chainsaw, walk through the woods, cutting fallen trees to get to a line. Climb 50ft up in the swirling freezing damp wind and turn that wrench. All without getting electricuted. Now do it in the dark, or by the side of the road with the Indy 500 going on below. If that is an acurate description of a lineman, then how much is it worth to find a guy who understands all this and has the logistical training to get the lineman to the downed lines? In the proper order to restore the power? I'd say it's worth 6 figures. And if the average Chattanoogan wants one of those "exorbitant" salaries, let me suggest the local community college where technical associate degrees are availiable to the ones who are doing more than just dreaming.

August 5, 2012 at 1:12 p.m.

Not just city employees, but city residents, across the board.

That's where the deception comes in.

aae1049 may call it shining a light, I call it shining a light too...a light to blind us with dazzle so we can't tell what's going on.

August 5, 2012 at 1:17 p.m.
tipper said...

EPB in industry terms is called a "muni," although it is really fish nor fowl. Partially controlled by the city yet almost having the autonomy of a private utility, it escapes a lot of oversight. Also known in the business as just a "wires" company, EPB having no power plants has no reposnibility to generate power, nor does it deal with gas production or supply like many of the utilities of similar size and customer base. The salaries of more than $100,000 for 52 employees for a utility this size with its customer territory is unheard of, especially in the South. However, salaries are only one circumstance. Nothing is said of the annual bonuses these people receive. Add to that the costs that EPB has paid to falsely lure out of area and out of state management to tweek procedures or change culture then release them with often trumped-up charges and severences, and the loss grows. But, if all you are interested in is that the lights come on when you flip the switch or your e-mail pops up a nano-second faster, tnen no problem. But you are paying more for what you get regardless of where you live. Maybe someday the city or another agency will look into EPB's practices.

August 5, 2012 at 1:18 p.m.
moon4kat said...

DHJBrainerd, thanks for making that point. I just logged on to say something similar. How many people are willing to brave lashing wind and rain to climb a utility pole with hot electrical wires sparking around their bodies? Not many, I'll bet.
As you said, anyone interested in that line of work is welcome to get the education needed.
EPB line workers are called out at all hours of day and night to fix electricity problems in the midst of our worst storms. What kind of person complains about paying them more than the "average" Chattanooga resident?

August 5, 2012 at 1:26 p.m.

tipper, I see accusations, but no facts, no comparison, no sources.

moon4kat, somebody who wants to fool us with lies.

August 5, 2012 at 1:29 p.m.
aae1049 said...

HappyWithFreeBulbs,

Light too bright, solution http://tinyurl.com/8dfq568

August 5, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

AAE1049 Do you remember what it was like when it was only comcast? NO service for rural areas and poor uncaring customer service. It was a monopoly and it seems like the city council had a hand in stifling the competition I just can't remember the specifics. Some sort of all or nothing ordinance in the name of fairness concerning potential service areas.

“I voted for it mainly because Comcast had failed to be service friendly here in Chattanooga, and we had a number of complaints that they were hard to get a hold of. We felt like Comcast had a monopoly and that this (EPB competing against Comcast) would make both services better,” Benson said.

The greater the competition among private companies in Chattanooga, the happier the consumer — but because of EPB’s presence, the city offers no profit potential. Snyder and most other service providers in the area now avoid Chattanooga, he said.

Who can't compete? we now have EPB comcast AT &T direct tv. Lots of choices compared to before EPB.

As far as the losses in your link those are fairly small markets and spread over a larger area compared to Chattanooga. So the comparison is a little sketcy. I think the rest is up to our individual world views such as: Is the stimulus bad? What role does the federal government play locally and so forth. So with that in mind Depriest played the game by the rules as he understood them and by doing so he aquired stimulus money and spent it here at home. A shovel ready job. Again I'll leave the opinion of the stimulus and federal grants for another day.

PS Nice link. And I do think more light on government spending is a good thing just not the way it was presnted in the editorial.

August 5, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.
una61 said...

To associate electric rates with EPB salaries has to be really stupid. I guess if the TVA CEO gave up a million dollars of his 3 million salary my electric should decrease. If this editorial is an example of Drew Johnson's best work, I suggest the TFP start a job search for a replacement.

August 5, 2012 at 2:33 p.m.
rosebud said...

Drew? Drew? Suddenly it's awfully quiet in here. Sure would like to get a response to my request.

August 5, 2012 at 3:45 p.m.
una61 said...

If Johnson reads these responses, I would be interested in reading his opinions on Climate Change and Evolution Science.

August 5, 2012 at 3:56 p.m.
Plato said...

What an idiotic editorial. Our fiber optics service is the envy of the nation right now and is attacking a lot of interest in high technology businesses to locate to our area. So what does the Free Press do? Criticize the people that make this possible regarding their pay checks. EPB may be government owned but it operates on earned revenue not from government hand outs.

And speaking of lobbyists, the ones you should be criticizing are the ones from the cable industry that are "persuading" our state officials not to allow the superior fiber optics service to be expanded into other regions of the state.

And lastly, it is really nice to know when I talk to a EPB C/S person, it's someone right here in Chattanooga who really cares about my service working right. Not a $1.25/hour college student or housewife in Bangladesh.

August 5, 2012 at 7:14 p.m.
HereAndThere said...

The Time Free Press should look toward TVA should they want to complain about salaries. They have 50 or more who make more then Mr. Depriest. I personally think their salaries are lower than average. Compare them to workers who do the same thing in the private sector. EPB is not a government operation paid for by taxpayers. They provide a service, and do it well. But their funding comes from electric ratepayers, not from taxes. If they were not here, then the good citizens of Chattanooga would be helping fund a $10M CEO of a private power company. Look at what the Comcast CEO makes. I don't know what the EPB budget is, but they have facilities that are worth many times the total worth of City facilities. A budget that likely is $500M or more. They need to have better than average managers running an operation of this importance.

If I were EPB, I would stop all of my advertising in the newspaper. I am sick of newspapers thinking that they can editorialize about anything and everything with no ramifications. I do not care that the editorial department and the sales department operate independently. Tell the Times Free Press the shove every bit of EPB's advertising up their editor's hiney.

August 5, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.
HereAndThere said...

Also, ask Comcast how much of their profits stay in Chattanooga. You will get silence. And TFP..... post your top 10 salaries. And also your bottom 25. Yes, you have plenty of 10 percenters there, but you also have many that are barely paid minimum wage.

August 5, 2012 at 10:08 p.m.
mikebfromky said...

Something the right has done extremely well over the past few decades is play one sector of the middle class off against another. As long as people are fooled by this they do not lay the blame where it truly belongs. The blame really goes to Congressmen Wamp and Fleischman and Senator Corker who allow the 1% or corporate America to keep wages stagnant.

According to a recent MIT study entitled Addressing the problem of stagnant wages, between 1980 and 2009, labor productivity increased by 78% but the median compensation of 35 to 44 year-old male high school graduates (with no college) declined by 10%. It also goes on to say that, the broken connection between labor productivity growth and compensation growth for average workers has undermined mass upward mobility and the ideal of a growing middle class.

Drew wants EPB to fail. He wants Chattanoogans to resent other Chattanoogans that are employed by EPB. If EPB fails, then many Chattanoogans would lose good paying jobs. Why would an editor of the paper we subscribe to root for the downfall of its citizens? Because he doesn’t care about you or this city and as long as Drew and the groups he believes in succeed in playing one of us against another all wages will spiral downward. And that is what Drew and the 1% really want.

August 5, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.
rosebud said...

I think by refusing to answer my question, and thereby refusing to honor my request about his salary, and that of other TFP managers and department heads, Drew proves my point. The TFP loves to expose the dirty laundry of others, but will never report on itself. Same goes for union organizing, in-house lawsuits, etc.

Without fear or favor. That's a laugh.

August 5, 2012 at 10:46 p.m.
hambone said...

TFP doesn't get any taxpayer money, huh? What about what they charge city, county and state government to publish public notices required by law. A web site would be much cheaper. But when someone proposes it the TFP screams like a mashed cat!

August 5, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Whoa, looks like .gov employees have been busy on this thread.

August 6, 2012 at 9:53 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

I was surprised to see that I am paying about 10% more for electricity than the average for residential power in Tennessee. This chart shows TN at $0.0779 per kWr in 2011.

http://www.electricchoice.com/electricity-prices-by-state.php

My last EPB bill was $0.10 per kWh. My first bill in 2011 was $0.09 per KWh, probably a better number to compare to the $0.0779. It seems as though EPB is not doing so well for Chattanooga.

BTW, homemade solar panels come in at about $0.15 per kWh and that does not include any power conversion or batteries. Little wonder you don’t see any panels around here.

August 6, 2012 at 1:34 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

rosebud said... “I think by refusing to answer my question, and thereby refusing to honor my request about his salary, and that of other TFP managers and department heads, Drew proves my point. The TFP loves to expose the dirty laundry of others, but will never report on itself. Same goes for union organizing, in-house lawsuits, etc.”

Since EPB is part of the government they are our "servants" and we are entitled to know what they make. TFP, not so much.

August 6, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
moon4kat said...

aae1049, on what do you base your assumption that ".gov employees have been busy on this thread." Speaking for myself, I'm not working for the government, nor posting while at work.

August 6, 2012 at 1:58 p.m.
ldurham said...

In recent years, my subscription to the TFP has risen from $156 to $180. Why the increase? Whose inflated salaries am I funding? Drew? Drew? Anybody home?

August 6, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.

BRP, do check the actual charges, you'll see that the FCA, outside of EPB's control is making the difference. You'll have to blame the TVA for that one.

August 6, 2012 at 3:44 p.m.
timbo said...

DREW JOHNSON WAS RIGHT ON. This is the type of thing the government shouldn't be involved in. EPB has'nt been worth warm spit sense it bragged about saving money and then spent millions to build the new Taj Mahal it is in today.

One more thing, all you liberal idiots know that they have 70 million of our money in deposits. Yea, when you get power from EPB you have to pay a deposit that you don't get back until you move. No matter how well you pay your bill.

EPB sucks.

TFP is a private entity. It can pay as much as it wants and we don't have a right to see how much. EPB is a government entity and we ARE entitled to their salaries and whatever else we want to know.

These posts are full of government employees and their sycophants.

August 6, 2012 at 4:25 p.m.
Facts said...

There's a loud cry to cut government until it gets in your own backyard. TVA, EPB, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, TNInvestCo, all sorts of things that our governments are involved in that pay high salaries & benefits but our Constitution does not permit. Fun to see who really is for personal responsibility.

August 6, 2012 at 4:35 p.m.

These posts are full of anti-government liars who can't even find the truth.

TFP can do what it wants in regards to pay, but that doesn't give them the right to lie. Which is what they did here, with their distortions of statistics.

And if you want the electric grid run on individual responsibility, well, you're going to go have a lot of fun with that idea.

I'll let you try your Constitutional analysis another time, suffice to say you haven't won any challenges based on that premise, and you certainly wouldn't with regards to the city running an electric company.

August 6, 2012 at 6:39 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

happywithnewbulbs said... "do check the actual charges, you'll see that the FCA, outside of EPB's control is making the difference. You'll have to blame the TVA for that one."

There is no itemization for FCA on my billing, just a charge for "Electric Power" which is identical to the "Total Balance Due".

August 6, 2012 at 7:33 p.m.
shen said...

Women and minorities have made the greatest gains in government jobs. That's why the private sector is attacking government jobs. They want to go back to their old misguided habits of discrimination. That's why they attack companies like EPB.

EPB hired and trained some of the first female linemen in the south, and possibly the nation. During the latter part of 1960s they helped to finance training for young male minorities in the electrical field @ Oak Ridge Tennessee. The private sector had plans to neither hire nor promote either women or minorities. The federal government had to promise them all kinds of incentives and kickbacks before many would hire either. Even then minorities usually remained the last hired first fired.

August 6, 2012 at 8:38 p.m.

BigRidgePatriot, that's your ignorance that is the problem, the bill doesn't actually describe everything because that'd be a pointless waste. If you want to see those details, you'll have to check something besides the bill.

August 7, 2012 at 11:09 a.m.
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