Questions Trigger Audit of Upper Cumberland Agency
By Phil Williams. CREATED Feb 12, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An agency that's supposed to create jobs and help the poor in 14 Middle Tennessee counties now finds itself under state investigation.
That investigation of the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD) was launched as a result of questions first raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates into how that agency spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.
More than a million dollars went into a not-so-modest house in rural Putnam County that was supposed to be a retirement home for the elderly.
"This is the first project like this anywhere, anywhere in the state of Tennessee," said UCDD executive director Wendy Askins.
For Askins, that elegantly decorated house also became her home.
"It's enough of a concern that we moved fairly quickly on this thing," said Jim Shulman, who heads the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability.
After NewsChannel 5 Investigates began asking questions about expenditures we discovered in more than 4,000 pages of financial documents, Shulman says his own investigators became highly alarmed. That's when called in state auditors.
"It's high enough for us to be concerned, and it's high enough for us to quickly reach out to the comptroller's office and say 'We need your help, we want you to take a look at this,'" he explained.
Among the concerns: how UCDD officials used state and federal money to put elderly residents into the home even though it isn't licensed.
"Well, I believe that we are working through all of those questions," Askins told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, insisting that it's all just a "misunderstanding" by Shulman's agency.
But last month, UCDD's local lawyer, Dan Rader, asked for an emergency meeting of the board that oversees the agency after seeing documents requested by NewsChannel 5 Investigates. The board voted to hire a big Nashville law firm to conduct an internal investigation.
"Some of the documents that we were supplying were incomplete," Rader told the board, which is made up of elected officials from the 14-county district.
UCDD serves Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren and White counties.