A Channel 4 I-Team investigation exposed six-figure salaries for more than 100 top Nashville Electric Service executives just as many customers are paying their largest power bills ever.
Now, we've learned more about how those big paychecks are decided and the surprising move that helped the CEO get a big raise.
Workers at the not-for-profit agency NeedLink face tough choices every day about which of the customers who are about to have their power cut off need help the most.
"Right now, we get about $10,000 in requests per week," said Jann Seymour, who runs NeedLink.
Seymour said with this winter's high utility bills, they are seeing as many as 100 people each day filling out applications for emergency help paying overdue electric bills.
That's twice as many as usual, she said.
The group gives the highest priority to seniors and families with newborns.
"The need is great," Seymour said.
Madelyn Wade, of Hermitage, is grateful for NeedLink's help. She is a disabled senior on a fixed income.
Her normal electric bill is $200 a month, but in January it was $544.
Wade saw the Channel 4 I-Team investigation into executive salaries and raises at Nashville Electric Service.
"Shame on them," she said.
Electric bills are high simply because it's been so cold, but the I-Team wanted to look into how your electric dollars are spent at NES.
We found top executives at NES have gotten substantial raises in the last five years, despite the downturn in the economy.
NES CEO Decosta Jenkins' salary is now $388,000. That's a 51 percent increase over his salary in 2009.
He received a $130,000 salary increase during that five-year-period, even though the economy was in a slump and despite a critical audit of NES by the Tennessee Comptroller's Office.
None of the NES board members, including its chairman, Sam Howard, would talk on camera to the Channel 4 I-Team about how they established the CEO's salary.
Jenkins referred us to a compensation study done by a consultant NES has been using for about 15 years.
"The board hired a firm, an external firm, to do a comp study back in 1999, and they put in place a plan that covers all employees, including the president," Jenkins said.
That consultant is HayGroup, a company based in New Jersey. In the firm's most recent CEO compensation study, it compared salaries of CEOs at 34 utilities with a median revenue of $1.3 billion.
The list includes a number of publicly-traded utilities in New York, New Jersey and California.
In October 2013, HayGroup concluded that although Jenkins salary falls below the competitive range, it did not recommend a "material one-time increase in base salary to close the market gap." It cited factors including "the perception and magnitude of past pay adjustments, and overall company and individual performance."
The following month, in November 2013, the NES board recommended an increase of 5.75 percent for Jenkins.
HayGroup was paid $5,316 for its work.
Executive pay at NES has been a controversial topic. In 2009, Metro Councilman Jim Gotto proposed the city exert more control over the NES payroll, but that didn't go anywhere.
NES documents obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team shed light on what happened.
In Jenkins' annual performance review, he is praised for his work to ensure that "NES had sufficient votes to defeat the measure."
Jenkins earned the highest possible score on that section of his evaluation, the same evaluation that is used to determine his raise.
If you need help paying a utility bill, contact the following organizations:
NeedLink administers Project Help
LADIES OF CHARITY
METRO ACTION COMMISSION
Weatherization Assistance Program
Mid Cumberland of Sumner County
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