published Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Tennessee housing agency questioned about perks

NASHVILLE — A review of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency shows that employees receive plenty of perks as they work to meet the needs of Tennessee families.

An investigation by WTVF-TV in Nashville found that the agency spent almost $10,000 to take its employees to Dave & Buster’s where each employee of the agency enjoyed a lunch buffet and got $40 to enjoy video games or bowling. In addition, the agency spent $1,300 in public money to celebrate the director’s birthday and $641 just on a limo on administrative professionals’ day.

THDA spokeswoman Patricia Smith says the perks are warranted as ways of investing in and developing good employees.

“We work together as a team, we play together as a team,” Smith said. “Play is part of growing a good employee base.”

For example, the trip to Dave & Buster’s allowed employees to bond with each other, she said.

“The people who work in accounting get to know the people who work in tax credits,” Smith explained. “The people who work in housing management get to know the people in public affairs.”

THDA executive director Ted Fellman responded “yes, sir” when asked by NewsChannel 5 whether he’s used public money well.

In addition to thousands the agency spends on restaurants and catering, it also spent more than $8,000 on a motivation speaker for the Governor’s Housing Summit this year, the TV investigation found.

THDA board Chairman Brian Bills, who was appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, said, “in an agency of this size and caliber of success they’ve had, it’s reasonable to assume that some of these things will occur.”

When the station asked whether a state agency should act that way, he said THDA isn’t a state agency, although it was created by state lawmakers who approve its budget.

THDA funding comes from selling state revenue bonds to provide housing loans. The bonds are part of the state’s debt.

“There are no state tax dollars being spent on these events,” Bills said.

“They are public dollars,” NewsChannel 5 noted.

“I think that’s a fair statement,” he agreed, “that they are public dollars.”

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