TBI Investigating Management Of Cross Anchor, Chuckey Utility Districts; State's Findings Will Go To Grand Jury, DA Says
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is investigating the controversy that has emerged concerning the administration of the Cross Anchor and Chuckey utility districts.
The TBI's findings, as well as any findings from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's ongoing investigation, will be brought before a Greene County grand jury.
The fact that the findings will be presented to a grand jury means criminal charges could follow, according to officials.
TBI Executive Officer Illana Tate said today that Third Judicial District Attorney General Berkeley Bell requested on Friday that the TBI "investigate allegations of theft and official misconduct after an audit."
At a meeting of Cross Anchor's board Monday night, the two utility districts' attorney, Ed Kershaw, said Attorney General Bell spoke with him on Feb. 6 about the future of the case.
"He said that he was meeting with the state comptroller again in two weeks [from Feb. 6]," Kershaw said
"He also said that it was his intention after meeting with the state comptroller to present some issues to the grand jury.
"When you present issues to the grand jury, that typically means that you're asking that somebody be charged with a crime," Kershaw added.
"He did not disclose to me who precisely he would be presenting to the grand jury. Presumably it's going to be one [or more] of the four people that have been suspended without pay."
In October, the two utility district boards placed four employees on leave when local Certified Public Accountant Mickey Ellis' early audit results revealed "questionable practices by the management."
Later audit reports detailed findings that Eliis described as violations of state law.
The employees placed on leave include: former manager Shirley Collins; her husband, Willie; their daughter, Kandie Jennings, who became acting general manager after Shirley Collins retired in 2013; and Jennings' husband, Bill.
Attempts by The Greeneville Sun to reach these individuals for comment have been unsuccessful.
Bell said Monday night in a telephone interview with the Sun that he doesn't know when the case would go to a grand jury, but added that he doesn't anticipate its being this month.
"I just said, at the conclusion of the investigation the finding will be presented to a grand jury," Bell said.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the discoveries by Ellis, the Cross Anchor and Chuckey utility district boards have begun changing district policies and re-evaluating procedures.
Some customers of the Cross Anchor district, however, made it clear on Monday that they feel the Cross Anchor board members need to vacate their positions, along with the four employees that the board placed on leave.
For the second consecutive month, customers called on the board members to resign, saying that they had failed in their oversight of the district.
As customers issued an onslaught of complaints against the board members, President Lloyd Dawson and board member Lynn Foshie sat silently, rarely showing emotion.
During a fervent speech, Kevin Morrison, of Morrison Road, declared the board members should be "fired."
Morrison said that when he first moved into the Cross Anchor Utility District, he found the now-former management to be "terse" and "intimidating."
"You three are ultimately responsible for the execution of this utility," Morrison said. "You cannot say, 'We didn't know.' You should have known! It was your duty to find out, to supervise, to manage, to oversee, to check -- and you failed."
Morrison went on to say that many customers blame the board members for any loss of funds.
He called on both Cross Anchor and Chuckey board members to resign.
"I continue to believe in my heart, until shown otherwise, that all of you are honest people and did not intentionally or criminally financially enrich yourselves," Morrison said.
"However, I do call for your resignation on the grounds of dereliction of duty, loss of customer confidence in your continued service and supervision of this utility.
"We resent paying nearly the highest fees and rates for water in Greene County while the board disregards the by-laws and policies and allows theft.
"We, your water customers, resent the flagrant nepotism and dictatorship control and culture allowed by you to proudly display itself here and grow with your blessing."
He went on to object also to allegations of awarding contracts without bids, excessive spending and disparities in employee pay.
One employee, Vera Cox, brought her complaint of such a pay disparity before the board on Monday.
Kershaw, who clarified with Cox that she is requesting back pay, said that she should take such a matter through management rather than before the board at the public meeting.
If the matter is not able to be resolved in this matter, he asked that she bring it back before the board at a later date.
Cox complained that she presented the matter to the district management and, at management's request, to board members last month but had not heard any response.
Both Office Manager Beth Fletcher and Dawson said they would work with her on this matter.
Finally, the board heard from customers Bill Gass and Roger Carter.
Gass said those customers present and a "blue million others" are all saying the same thing -- the board members need to resign.
CARTER SPEAKS AGAIN
For the second successive meeting, Carter also called for board members' resignations, noting that he has a letter of intent from an attorney, as required by state law, to begin the process to force the removal of board members.
He also said that he is prepared to begin gathering signatures for an ouster petition.
According to state law, in a situation where customers desire to remove a board member from office, a customer must file a letter of intent to compile and file a petition with the board and then, within 90 days of the date of notice, must compile a petition containing the names of at least 20 percent of the customers of the utility district.
The board must then review the petition for authenticity.
State law calls for the Utility Management Review Board to review any investigation by the state Comptroller of the Treasury to determine if members should be removed.
Carter pointed out that Dawson has served on the board for 21 years, Foshie for 20 years and Charles Baxter, who was absent on Monday, for 14 years.
Carter further questioned how many years board members had been attending annual parties at the Collins' home, such as Shirley Collins' retirement party that cost the district $7,600.
Dawson replied that he could not recall how many years, but confirmed that the Collins had hosted parties at their home annually.
In an interview on Tuesday, Dawson again confirmed that the district paid for such parties.
"We've had a district party for the last several years," he said. "Every year we'd have something for the employees in the summertime or the fall.
"I've never saw a cost on any of them except for this audit that came out [with the cost for the retirement party]."
He said that the board did not authorize a cost for the retirement party, but had been aware that the district was paying for prior annual parities.
"Not really a formal authorization, but we knew about them, knew they were being given, but never questioned the cost on them," he said.
Board members were in attendance at most of the annual parties, Dawson added.
NO STEPPING DOWN
As for the calls for his resignation, Dawson made the following comments:
"I call them nay-sayers, the people that are complaining and asking for the board's dismissal. I don't think they have all the facts.
"Mr. Morrison quoted a lot of stuff last night. I couldn't keep up with all of it. I could have rebutted, but I didn't. I don't think it helps to argue with people like that.
"I'm not going to step down at this time because I want to see this thing worked out.
"If the community -- the customers -- if the majority of them want to see us removed, that's okay. We will gladly resign."