FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - Executive members of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, or The T, would not talk to us last week when we reported about their tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
So we caught up with several of them at a meeting this week in which they were updating city officials and civic leaders on their progress in building an $800 million commuter rail line, known as Tex Rail, which is three to four years behind schedule.
The T’s chairman of the board, Gary Cumbie, said he would talk on camera. But, he added, “You may not like what I have to say.”
Cumbie was mad at CBS 11 News for continuing to ask about how the T’s board and its executive director, Richard Ruddell, managed to rack up $53,000 in travel and entertainment expenses for conferences from May 2011 through last July.
“I’m telling you …it’s meetings we need to be at, and so long as I have anything to say about it …however long that is … that’s my intent,” Cumbie said.
CBS 11 obtained records that show Ruddell and board members traveled across the country, from one conference to another. They even billed taxpayers for conferences as close as Dallas. And they stayed in expensive hotel rooms, like the Hyatt Regency at Reunion, instead of driving home for the night.
“We go because it’s educational,” Cumbie said, adding: “Not a one of us has a background in the transit business …We bring rich experience from other fields that give us the ability to help guide the process.”
Our investigation also found that Ruddell, board member Rosa Navejar and The T’s senior vice president, Tony Johnson, initially billed taxpayers for a skiing event that was part of a conference in Denver last February.
After CBS 11 began asking questions, Ruddell, Navejar and Johnson have each reimbursed The T the $115 they paid to take part in the ski outing.
“It’s been repaid …It was not good judgment,” Cumbie said.
While not questioning our math, Cumbie did accuse CBS 11 of picking a time period in our records request that would allow one of the larger conferences to be counted twice – both in 2011 and 2012.
“I knew that’s what you were going to do …it was inflated and I think intentionally so,” Cumbie said.
But others are now asking the same questions CBS 11 had about The T’s expenses.
“I think it never hurts to raise that question. Is this adequate or not?” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said.
Price and City Council member Jungus Jordan are both members of a new advisory council that was formed to help push through the Tex Rail project.
Jordan, after seeing the findings from the CBS 11 investigation, said they warranted answers to serious questions – especially that ski event.
He told Senior Investigative Reporter Ginger Allen, “I think you were very accurate with the numbers …Are you being accountable with the taxpayers’ dollar? I think that’s the question you asked. I agree with asking the question. The taxpayer has to know.”
Several attendants of the advisory council meeting this week said they expected Ruddell to be there. Instead, he was in Seattle.
And Cumbie told CBS 11 why.
“Mr. Ruddell is still at the conference that I came back from yesterday,” he said, adding, “And I want him there …I want him at the next one too.”
If you want to reach CBS 11′s Investigative Producer Jack Douglas Jr., you can email him at email@example.com. If you want to reach CBS 11′s Investigative Reporter Ginger Allen, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org