A KSAT 12 Defenders investigation into spending at the San Antonio River Authority uncovered questionable meal and entertainment expenses.
Created in 1937 by the legislature, the San Antonio River Authority is involved in everything from flood control and water quality to sewage treatment and ecosystem restoration.
To keep those missions going it collects taxes. And it spends money.
But the KSAT 12 Defenders found that a number of San Antonio River Authority employees had spent money on a regular basis on local lunch meetings,
Expenses included $43 at Luby's, $21 at Tycoon Flats, $16 at Texas Pride Barbeque and $41 for lunch at El Mirador.
Most of the expenses were nominal, but San Antonio River Authority Spokesman Steven Schauer said they were inappropriate. "Would I agree that some of those were unnecessary,” Schauer said. “Yes."
A specific meal expense caught the eye of the KSAT 12 Defenders and Schauer as well.
An employee spent $72 for three people to have breakfast in Washington, D.C. "It is Washington, D.C.,” Schauer said. “The restaurant prices in general in Washington D.C. are certainly a little bit higher."
Schauer said action has already been taken to rein in local meal expenses.
"Even if you were working that day, you would have been having lunch and a couple of SARA staffers going to lunch is not justifiable," Schauer said. “We have since reviewed that ourselves and beginning about March of this year, you shouldn't see any of those types of expenses anymore.”
San Antonio River Authority employees also spent money for cake and ice cream for an intern and employee birthday celebration, a new employee welcome lunch, even dice for an ice breaker exercise for a finance department meeting.
San Antonio River Authority also paid for a number of lunches that recognized the accomplishments of employees or departments at places like Habachi Restaurant, Saltgrass Steakhouse and The Little Red Barn.
Schauer said SARA does have an employee recognition program. $36,000 is set aside for little perks and rewards for all employees and $59,000 is for the general manager to reward employees.
He said the total equals less than one percent of the personnel budget and that it works to retain employees."
"You have to remember we're competing with the private sector to keep good, talented people here," Schauer said. “You take them out for a lunch where they're averaging $10 for lunch or $15 for lunch, that's really a small price to pay to keep people satisfied.”
Employees who spend money on spouses also have to reimburse the authority.
The KSAT 12 Defenders investigation found a number of checks from general manager Suzanne Scott reimbursing SARA for expenditures on her spouse..
"There are several layers of checks and balances within the procedures here," Schauer said. “So you really are not going to see a bill go through that shouldn't have happened.”
Last year, instead of giving cash bonuses to employees, SARA’s general manager used the money dedicated to that to improve the agency's employee fitness area.
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