Embattled Utility Board Avoids Audit, Criminal Probe Talk At Meeting

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PARK CITY, Tenn.(WHNT)-An embattled utility board at the center of a state audit and criminal probe did not mention either issue at its first meeting since controversy erupted earlier this week.

Board members of the Lincoln County Water Department held their regular monthly meeting Thursday night, the first time they've been assembled since a state audit revealed shocking financial mismanagement by administrators and employees. The five board members did not mention the audit or criminal probe by prosecutors at any time in a meeting that lasted approximately forty minutes.

The Tennessee State Comptroller’s office released the embarrassing 20-page report on Monday, which detailed how the Lincoln County Board of Public Utilities wasted hundreds of thousands dollars worth of customers’ money, even as customer rates spiked upward. The unveiled state audit came a year and a half after WHNT News 19 broke a series of stories highlighting financial irregularities within the Lincoln County water department, which eventually caused former department director Billy Joe Wiley to resign.

Water Department Board Chairman Larry Craig is one of three board members who presided during the three-year span covered in the audit. Craig reiterated an earlier statement that he would not resign because he was innocent of wrongdoing, and shrugged off a question over why the audit and probe were not discussed.

"What would've been the use in it?," said Craig. "It's an open book, we have nothing to hide, at least I don't have anything to hide, and I'm not ashamed of anything I've done on this board."

When asked if he felt board members should be held accountable for presiding over the misuse of customer money, Craig offered a response defending he and his colleagues.

"We were always under the budget, so we had no way of knowing those bonuses were being paid," said Craig. "It's up to the powers that be that are still doing a criminal investigation."

The items listed in the audit include unauthorized weekly bonuses, illegally shredded documents and office credit cards being used to go the movies. The audit reportedly happened in a period spanning from 2008 to 2011.  Comptroller officials detailed how Wiley spent close to $300,000 on the weekly bonuses, which covered tasks that ranged from showing up to work on time to spying on a co-worker suspected of adultery. Bonuses were also handed out in an “Easter Egg drawing” to celebrate the annual spring holiday.

Three LCBPU board members who oversaw the financial chaos are still on the job. According to the audit, those board members received improper discounts on their monthly bills and were overpaid by roughly $12,000 just for attending regularly scheduled meetings.