Insider Says UCDD Job Was 'Like A Death Sentence'

Insider Says UCDD Job Was 'Like A Death Sentence'

By Phil Williams. CREATED Jul 11, 2012

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The former interim director of the Upper Cumberland Development District says he was put in a no-win situation when he took over the troubled agency.

Earl Carwile was the first person picked to lead the UCDD after it was hit by scandal. He served for three months as head of the agency before quitting in an explosive resignation letter.

"Maybe at the time I didn't realize it as much, but anybody that took that job, it was like a death sentence really," Carwile told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

After 16 years on the job, Carwile had been ready to leave the Upper Cumberland Development District.

Then, in February, scandal engulfed the agency over that million-dollar Living the Dream house, forcing out longtime executive director Wendy Askins.

Board members persuaded Carwile to postpone his planned retirement and take over as interim director.

"When they asked me to take the job, I was working part time," he said. "Right at the last, they kind of said 'Would you take it?' I said, 'Well, I don't really want it. But if that is your only choice, then I would take it.'"

Carwile says that he and interim deputy director Ashley Pealer immediately began doing what they could to save the agency -- selling off a large fleet of take-home cars, putting agency cell phones on a much-cheaper state plan and making sure that all employees' jobs were tied to a dependable funding source.

But just like the earliest concerns expressed by then-chairman Mike Foster, Carwile said some key board members continued to be obsessed with who had snitched -- and why.

"You couldn't hardly get their attention because they wanted to concentrate on that," he recalled.

"Who was talking to Channel 5?" we asked.

"Yeah, who? Who did it?"

Then Carwile says he and Pealer discovered that one UCDD employee had been given a no-bid contract to provide extermination services on the side for agency properties -- so they put an end to it.

"And that's when everything started getting bitter," Pealer recalled. 

Carwile added, "I did things that made people mad, but it was the right thing to do."

Soon, there was talk of board members promising to support candidates to take over the agency -- if they'd promise to fire certain people.

"Most of the names that were being mentioned would be me and Ashley -- 'if I vote for you, will you fire Earl and Ashley,'" he said.

Then the two questioned the propriety of Foster and new chairman Mike Gannon hiring former UCDD employee Amanda Mainord as a freelance grant writer for their counties, letting her take with her profits from projects she'd worked on while employed at the agency.

"When they voted to let that person benefit personally from that, I couldn't believe it," Carwile said.

Shortly after that meeting, Carwile submitted a strongly worded resignation, telling board members that "overlooking things that are not right is the very thing that got UCDD in trouble before."

"When you're trying to think what to say, the truth is a pretty good thing to say," he recalled about his letter.

Since then Foster and Gannon have repeatedly criticized Carwile, publicly accusing him of giving himself a 22 percent raise.

The truth, Carwile said, is he just went from part-time -- four days a week -- back to full time to lead the agency.

"I didn't really consider that a raise; I thought that was just going back to full time," he added. "That kind of hurt. That really did."

Two weeks after the board picked Carwile's replacement, that man fired Ashley Pealer and her mother -- a move that did not surprise the veteran agency employee.

"It's a death sentence if you go in and you try to make the good decisions and do the right thing to try to help the agency," Carwile said.

"Because you are going to tick some people off?" we asked.

"Oh, yeah," he replied. "That's a definite."

Carwile said he gave raises to a few employees who took on extra duties -- something that was in his power to do.

Still, Mike Foster and Mike Gannon say that should have been brought to the board -- at the same time they defend the recent decision by the current interim director to just start firing people.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates tried to ask the two men about their attacks on Carwile, but they both claimed that the agency's attorneys had told them not to say anything else.

Several investigations of the agency, including one led by the FBI, are continuing.

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Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.