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Comptroller Audit: Worse than questionable expenses at troubled NYS Power Authority, $340,000 on lavish parties, employee gifts, AARP memberships for retirees…

August 11, 2011

New York Power Authority needs to cut down ‘nonessential’ spending, Controller Thomas DiNapoli says

BY Kenneth Lovett

Thursday, August 11th 2011, 4:00 AM

ALBANY – The New York Power Authority spent big money on lavish parties, employee gifts and AARP memberships for retirees, a new audit revealed Wednesday.

The audit covering 2009 and 2010 by state Controller Thomas DiNapoli‘s office identified about $340,000 in questionable expenses at the troubled agency.

NYPA spent $160,000 on a total of 21 holiday parties and picnics for employees, retirees and guests, auditors found.

Another $85,000 was spent over two years on gifts for employee service and recognition – on top of $57,000 for award and recognition ceremonies.

NYPA spent $21,000 on complimentary AARP memberships for all its retired employees and another $10,000 on “empathetic” gifts such as flowers sent to employees who lost loved ones. NYPA also footed the $7,000 in entrance fees and other expenses related to having staff participate in a Corporate Challenge race.

The otherwise positive audit questions “if the purpose and/or the amount of such expense represents the best use of public funds particularly during what are difficult fiscal times for New York State.”

DiNapoli recommended NYPA “limit or eliminate spending on nonessential [like] parties, ceremonies, gifts and memberships.”

NYPA officials defended their practices, calling the spending “minor in scope” and designed to boost employee morale.

In a July 22 letter to DiNapoli, agency head Michael Townsend argued the authority has cut costs.

He said the $57,000 for award programs was down 62% from 2007 and has been eliminated.

He said the $80,000 for parties last year was 27% lower than the $109,000 spent in 2007.

NYPA is seen as a patronage dumping ground. Its president and CEO, Richard Kessel, is under investigation for donating NYPA money to non-energy charities.

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