I-Team: Water Boss Traveling Globe at Ratepayer Expense - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Water Boss Traveling Globe at Ratepayer Expense

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Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy
Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak
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LAS VEGAS -- Budgets are tight for most public agencies, including water agencies.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District has cut its work force by 25 percent, shut down its offices on Fridays and canceled $400 million in capital projects because it lacks the money.

But one budget item remains where the money still flows: travel for the boss.

This week, the I-Team has been reporting on questionable spending by various government agencies.

Water district General Manager Pat Mulroy has one of the highest salaries of any agency chief in government. The public spends $354,000 per year on her salary and benefits. So when she takes an eight day trip to Israel, the public not only forks over the costs of her travel, but the $7,700 for Mulroy's services. If she is on the road -- which happens with amazing frequency -- it means she's not in the valley to do her job as head of both the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the water district.

When water bills for local business owners suddenly jumped 300 percent in June, hundreds of people worried they would be forced into bankruptcy. They came to the water board meeting to vent, but the person most responsible for the rate hikes wasn't there to face the music. She's in Paris, a spokesman told the I-Team, but at no cost to the public, a statement that proved flatly untrue.

"You know, in my role with the national organizations, I have an opportunity to travel around the country and tell people the story of Las Vegas," Mulroy said earlier this year at a water conference in Las Vegas.

Mulroy not only travels around the country, but the entire world. A lineup of expensive public relations firms hired by her water agencies have turned her into a water celebrity, and Mulroy seems to have embraced her star power, jetting all over the globe to speak at meetings and conferences, averaging almost two trips per month.

"It is apparent there is a lot of traveling going on," Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. "I can tell you, in all other county agencies I deal with, we have cut way back, if not eliminated travel. … She is gone a lot."

When the I-Team examined water agency travel two years ago, Mulroy and her chief deputy had been enjoying a binge of wanderlust. Forty-nine trips in one year for the duo. In one five-month stretch, Mulroy went to Zurich, Singapore, Stockholm and Vienna. A spokesman said at the time that travel for the two agencies would be cut in half.

Maybe so, but not for Mulroy. In 2011, for example, records show she took 21 trips costing the public nearly $45,000. The only elected official to publicly question Mulroy's spending is Sisolak, who's been told Mulroy's speeches are a real plus for reputation of our water agencies.

"Now, how you can quantify that, … and put a dollar amount to that," Sisolak said. "I haven't figured out. I don't think anyone has. I don't think it exists."

Those trips where Mulroy speaks to the legislature or to Congress are understandable, but it's the ubiquitous conferences in exotic locales that raise questions. In May 2011, the water district paid $11,000 for airfare to Australia where Mulroy was a keynote speaker at a four day junket. In the same month, she visited 4 American cities before a publicly financed jaunt to Tijuana. Two months later, she made a return visit to Stockholm, Sweden, an $8,000 tab for a six day trip. Then she was off for eight days in Tel Aviv, Israel, to deliver a speech and talk to Israeli water experts. In June 2012, Mulroy was out of town for 17 out of 30 days…nine of those days were spent in Paris, while hell was breaking loose back at home.

Knapp: "What do you think we got out of that (Paris trip)?"

Sisolak: "An exchange of information with Parisian water officials? I don't know."

Mulroy mostly flies in coach but even then, it can get pricey. On her latest trip to Sweden, she bought a nonrefundable ticket for $2,700, but because she wasn't able to make it in time for her return flight, had to purchase another round trip ticket at a cost of $4,680.

WEB EXTRA: Pat Mulroy's Travel Expenses

Receipts show many $400 per night hotel rooms and $500 to $600 meals. Travel also means she misses a lot of meetings at which millions of dollars in water contracts are awarded. She missed at least 15 water board meetings through August of last year. Sisolak said it is unfair to the public and to other agencies.

"We are facing an extremely difficult economic situation in all departments and the administrators, we have stressed, eliminate or cutback travel," Sisolak said. "It's not fair to them when you say, ‘You can't go anywhere' and you have another person taking 15 or 20 trips in a year."

Mulroy declined to be interviewed for this report. No one from either of the water agencies would comment, either. We did receive a statement from the water authority which explained that travel is an important part of Mulroy's job, that many of her expenses are paid by outside entities, and that her travel represents less than "3/100 of one percent of the agency's annual operating costs."

Does anyone have oversight of Mulroy's travel? The answer is yes, sort of. A water authority board member must sign off on out-of-town trips. The person who signed nearly all of Mulroy's travel vouchers is North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck, who chairs the board. Buck has not only approved the travel expenses, she's also gone on some of the trips with Mulroy, including the previous week-long junket to Sweden.

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