The citizens of Bristol, Virginia, can talk about nothing else these days than Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU) Optinet. The whole place has been a mess for a few years, but lately it has come to a head, and it just keeps coming. As BVU officials have their day in court, more news of extravagance, cronyism and even criminal behavior have come to light. On Wednesday, WJHL TV solved the mystery of “Co-Conspirator #1” that was mentioned repeatedly in the court documents pertaining to former BVU CEO Wes Rosenbalm. They allege it is BVU Chief Financial Officer Stacey Bright Pomrenke.
While Ms. Pomrenke has not been charged as yet in this case, she has retained an attorney, according to the Bristol Herald Courier on Wednesday. She has also issued a public statement expressing her innocence.
“We emphatically state that she [Pomrenke] has done nothing criminally wrong and is innocent of any allegations being made,” the statement continued. “In fact she was the original person who reported improprieties in the conduct of Mr. Rosenbalm.”
As the skeletons begin to fall out of the closets at BVU, the most shocking thing of all are the numbers being batted around as commonplace figures in this economically depressed area. More disturbing than the kickbacks being uncovered are the salaries, benefits, perks and severance packages that city residents are finding out about. At least one board member has voiced that they were not aware of all of these benefits issued.
Ms. Pomrenke’s salary is hard to pinpoint, but WJHL has stated it was $193,000 in 2014, plus received a $22,000 annual vehicle allowance and a country club membership. The “unknown” part is the percentage of BVU Optinet earnings that she also receives. And, let’s not forget the two million dollar life insurance policies she receives. (These were purchased by one of the companies who provided sporting event tickets from Wes Rosebalm, who will be serving prison time for his role.) Rosenbalm’s annual base salary was $202,000 according to this 2013 article, and the big pill was his $290,000 severance package. (His numerous benefits, both legal and illegal, are many.)
Although the Bristol Country Club memberships were discontinued in 2015 after attention was drawn to them, over 14 years, the BVU spent $132,000 at the Country Club. The Bristol Herald Courier enumerated the various expenses in a Wednesday article. There were four individuals who received memberships: Wes Rosenbalm, Stacey Pomrenke, former General Counsel Walt Bressler and key accounts manager Brian Ritz. Parts of these expenses were paid when BVU was still part of the city of Bristol, Virginia, prior to July 2010.
When the average citizen drives up to the extremely opulent, all-brick campus which houses the BVU offices, they might wonder why such grandeur was necessary. Many unemployed and underemployed residents of Bristol, Virginia, are struggling just to pay for their electric service, unable to even afford Internet. There just seems to be some kind of major disconnect here.