Wendy Askins Resigns As Executive Director Of UCDD
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Wendy Askins resigned Tuesday morning as executive director of the Upper Cumberland Development District following a series of reports by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Askins appeared before an investigative committee of the UCDD board that was scheduled to meet in closed session with lawyers hired by the agency.
"I find this resignation necessary because of the firestorm that has been created by Channel 5 News media and a few other individuals in regards to the project ‘Living the Dream,'" Askins said, reading from a prepared resignation letter.
Our NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed how the agency spent more than a million dollars on a dream house that was supposed to become a retirement home for needy seniors. But it also became Askins' own luxurious home, including a place to stable her family's horses.
"I feel that this slanted publicity has harmed this organization and has harmed me in my position as the executive director to the point where I can no longer be effective," she continued.
Our investigation also revealed how Askins tried to avoid questions about some of that spending by providing NewsChannel 5 with a bogus set of minutes -- which she then convinced her own board to retroactively approve.
There were also questions about checks she wrote to herself as well as her family. There was even money spent on a political fundraiser.
"I admit that I have made some mistakes and also made some errors in judgment," Askins said. "I emphatically deny, however, that I have ever personally profited in any way in carrying out my duties."
With her resignation delivered, Askins walked out, leaving UCDD board members to meet behind closed doors for another four hours to hear what their own lawyers have now uncovered.
Afterwards, we asked UCDD chairman Mike Foster if Askins "make the right decision" with her resignation.
"Yeah, I think so," answered Foster, who is the Dekalb County executive.
In fact, no one from that committee suggested that the resignation was inappropriate.
"I think that was the inevitable thing that was going to happen anyway -- whether she made the decision or the board did," said Putnam County Executive Kim Blaylock.
"So she was on her way out?" we asked.
"Right," she said.
Askins' lawyer, Jack Lowery, said his client "has had almost a perfect record of performance." He presented her near-perfect job performance evaluations to the committee.
"It's a very hard decision for her because she's worked at this job with passion and dedication -- and this is not a good day for her at all," he added.
Askins now faces several continuing investigations, with a special prosecutor just appointed this week to look into questions about what went on inside UCDD.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Lowery if he was worried about a criminal investigation.
"No," he said, "I've seen nothing that I think merits a criminal investigation."
It's a question that the agency's attorney Bob Walker did not want to touch.
"I wouldn't answer it because I haven't been investigating for that," Walker said. "We'll leave that to the appropriate officials."
All questions that, with her resignation, Askins avoided until another day.
Askins had been placed on administrative leave, along with her deputy, Larry Webb, pending the outcome of the internal investigation.
So far, there's no word on Webb's plans.
The entire UCDD board is expected to meet a week from Thursday to figure out the next step.