Two weeks ago, state Sen. Stacey Campfield accused his opponent, Dr. Richard Briggs, of not actually residing in his Farragut apartment because of a couple of low water bills and a lack of KUB service. Briggs denied the claim, and he met me and showed me a number of documents (including a recent water bill from First Utility District—KUB doesn’t even service the apartments) that seemingly proved he had indeed changed his address from his home in the 6th state Senate District to an apartment in the 7th District in September 2012, several months before he announced his candidacy in February 2013.
I noted at the time that the documents didn’t conclusively prove that Briggs was spending every night at the apartment (which he never said he was, since he spends every couple of nights at the hospital on call), but that it probably didn’t matter:
In any case, unless Briggs really did show me a batch of faked documents, it’s going to be extremely hard for Campfield (or anyone else) to prove that he’s not a resident of 11631 Lanesborough Way. And, as I wrote earlier, my guess is that Campfield knows this, which is why he went to Humphrey about it instead of contacting the Knox County Election Commission. You’ll note, for instance, that despite Campfield’s regular attacks on his blog, he’s yet to post anything today questioning Briggs’ residency.
I still think that. Unless Lanesborough Apartments has security footage going back two years or records of electronic keycard access for the security gates on the complex that can be linked to Briggs’ car coming and going for two years—and if they do, they wouldn’t share that information with me—it’s going to be next to impossible for Campfield to prove Briggs was not spending 51 percent of his time at his apartment at the time he signed the petition to run. Because that’s the only thing Briggs may have possibly done wrong. It’s a felony to lie about your address, but it’s totally legal to run for a seat in a district in which you don’t live, as long as you live in the county. And if you’ve been getting your mail at an address for a year and a half, and you registered to vote at that address a year and a half ago, and you’ve done all sorts of other things to establish your legal residency as that address, it’s going to be difficult for someone to legally prove that you were lying when you wrote that address as the address at which you reside.
However, sometimes reporters like digging up information just because. And after meeting with Briggs, and after writing about everything he showed me, I started thinking about that 400 gallon water bill. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because it seemed so low—my water bill last month was almost 10 times that, and I only live with one other person, and we never water the yard. And so I made some records requests and did some research and talked to some people. And what I found does seem to indicate that, as Campfield originally claimed, Briggs doesn’t spend very much time in his apartment.
First, I should note that the low costs of Briggs’ water bills, about which Campfield first told the News Sentinel, are beside the point. FUD, Briggs’ water company, has a flat-rate fee structure—whether you use one gallon of water or 1,000 gallons of water, all usage under 1,500 gallons is $9.90 per month. Then, every additional 1,000 gallons are charged at one of three rates, depending on how many gallons of water you use. (The sewer rates are an additional fee, but I chose not to look at those, since they weren’t necessarily as representative.)
Second, I should note, yes, your utility usage is public record in Tennessee, as is mine. You don’t have to be a reporter to get this information. You might have even done it yourself in the past without realizing it, like if you’ve ever called a utility and asked what gas bills average before buying an old house. (If you want more information on what part of your accounts are and are not open to inspection, the Tennessee Association of Utility Boards has a decent explainer.)
Still, it seems like FUD and Lenior City Utilities Board (Briggs’ electric company) don’t regularly get a lot of open records requests from reporters, because it took some wrangling to get the data I wanted. In the end, FUD assistant manager Wayne Watson and LCUB awesome person Gail Vann came through for me. Here’s what I found out.
First, the water bills:
A) National averages of per-person daily water use vary from region to region and survey to survey. The United States Geological Survey estimates 80-100 gallons per day nationally. The same agency’s 2005 Water Census puts the average Tennesseean’s per capita daily use at 80 gallons. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have more recent data than that, and newer appliances, shower heads, and toilets tend to be much more efficient. But that same survey has daily water usage as low as 54 gallons in Maine and as high as 187 gallons in Idaho. A 2010 survey (containing data from 2004 to 2009) by Circle of Blue, an environmental reporting website, shows per-capita usage as low as 47 gallons in Milwaukee and 211 gallons in Fresno. Memphis, the only Tennessee city included, had a 96-gallon per-capita usage.
B) FUD’s average monthly water usage for residential customers is approximately 6,000 gallons. That includes big houses and small house, houses with irrigation systems and swimming pools, and small apartments with no washer and dryer, like Briggs. And that’s a lot lower than the average monthly water usage for Knoxville households, according to the city’s office of sustainability, which estimates 15 CCFs per household, or 11,250 gallons. (A CCF is hundred cubic feet, or 750 gallons, of water.)
C) Since those numbers aren’t a very representative comparison, I asked for the water usage in June of this year for any other Lanesborough units. One unit used 1,200 gallons, one used 1,300, one used 1,500, and one used 2,100 over a 24-day billing cycle. I don’t know any other information about these apartments—whether they are one-bedroom or three-bedroom units, whether one person lives there or four people do. But each apartment averaged from 50 gallons usage each day up to 87.5 gallons.
D) Briggs’ FUD service at Lanesborough Way began in September 2012. Since that time, there have only been four months where the apartment’s water usage has been in excess of 100 gallons—April and May 2013, and May and June 2014. Here’s what Watson sent me:
E) Before you Campfield voters go crazy with glee, that “0″ doesn’t actually mean “zero water usage at all.” FUD’s meters only measure 100-gallon increments of usage. So Briggs might have used 99.99 gallons of water in each of those months. Or he might have used 1 gallon—there’s no way to tell. But in either case, Watson—who deals with these numbers every day, as his living—seemed slightly incredulous that a human could regularly live in any space and use that little water. “A single flush of the toilet averages three gallons,” Watson says. (Although, technically, newer models average less). So, we ask, it would be hypothetically possible for a person to spend, say, five nights a week here and only flush the toilet once per day and briefly wash his hands afterwards and use less than 100 gallons? “Hypothetically,” Watson replies. “If he didn’t flush the toilet more than 30 times.”
Now, on to the electric bills:
A) It’s a lot harder to estimate per-person electric usage than it is water usage. You could have an apartment in an old building with terrible insulation that costs more to heat than a two-bedroom house. You could have a well-insulated house with old, energy-hogging appliances. You don’t normally leave the sink running when you walk out of the kitchen, but you often leave the lights on. And on and on.
B) That said, I did find some 2009 data from the U.S. Energy Information specific to homes in the South, and homes in Tennessee. The average annual per-capita energy consumption in our state is 31.9 million BTUs. This includes electric and gas usage, but if one is solely using electric power, you can covert BTUs to kWh—or kilowatt hours, what electricity is billed in—to get almost 9,349 kWh, or 779 kWh of per-capita average monthly electric usage. It’s not a precise stat, mind you, but it puts you in the ballpark.
C) LCUB couldn’t provide an average monthly usage for their customers because Vann says it varies so much that any comparison would probably be useless. I asked KUB if they had any data on apartment usage versus houses; they said pretty much the same thing. However, the office of sustainability says the average Knoxville single‐family home uses 1,302 kWh in electricity per month. That’s higher than the national average of 920 kWh—because, lord, do we love our air conditioning around here—and also higher than the 2012 state average of 1,217 kWh per household.
C) The data LCUB provided shows that Briggs opened an account in September 2012, and there has been electricity used in every month since. Over the past 25 months, he has averaged 177.04 kWh in usage per month.
D) LCUB also provided a second document that shows the electric usage at that same apartment prior to Briggs’ residence. The previous tenant (or tenants) averaged 511.42 kWh in usage per month over 24 months.
E) Just for the sake of one more comparison, I asked a very frugal friend who lives in a one-bedroom apartment without a washing machine or dryer what her monthly electric usage was like. Over the course of one year of KUB billing, her lowest monthly usage was 237 kWh, during the relatively temperate mid-September to mid-October, when windows would have been open and no heat or air used.
Last night, after all this research and all these comparisons, I called Briggs.
“I’m not going to talk about it anymore. It’s nobody’s business,” Briggs said. “If they want to file a complaint, go ahead and file a complaint.”
Then Briggs did talk about it—for a full hour. Most of what he said, over and over, was some variant on the following: “What difference does it make? What difference does it make if I spend a lot of nights at the hospital? We travel a lot—so what? Why would I pay rent at an apartment for two years when I didn’t have to? What difference does it make if my water bills are low? So what? It’s no one’s business.”
I offered to email the data from FUD and LCUB to Briggs, but he declined.
“It’s getting like those Obama birthers,” Briggs said. “Where I spend the night is my business.”
Briggs invited me to come over to his apartment and see proof of its lived-in-ness and have dinner with him and his wife; as it was 9 p.m., I politely declined.
I called Campfield for a comment this morning.
“I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t live there,” Campfield says. “I mean, he doesn’t have gas hooked up—there’s no heat. There’s no hot water.”
I said that Briggs had told me everything at the apartment was electric—some units do have gas fireplaces, but his is not one of them—but Campfield said I was wrong, and that the Lanesborough website mentioned the gas heat.
It doesn’t, actually. And when I called the apartments’ office after getting off the phone with Campfield, they confirmed that no units have gas heat or gas water heaters or gas for anything at all besides the handful of fireplaces. Whether Briggs is barely living at the apartment or living there more frugally than most Americans, that’s one thing Campfield is making up and Briggs isn’t.
Briggs said that if Campfield—or anyone else—files a complaint, it won’t go anywhere. As I wrote above, he’s probably right. But I asked Campfield anyway if he was planning to file a complaint if Briggs won the election.
His response? “I don’t plan on losing.”