State Audit Shows Major Financial Mismanagement At Lincoln County Public Utility

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FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn.(WHNT) - A local water department already drowning in controversy may have more trouble on hand after a newly released state audit revealed a shocking and embarrassing list of financial mismanagement.

The Tennessee State Comptroller's office released the 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.

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.

Read the full report from the Tennessee State Comptroller's Office.  Also, see exhibits used in the findings, including examples of bonuses and credit cards purchases for movies and restaurant bills.

"It's unacceptable," said Lincoln County Commissioner David Smith, who has been a vocal critic of the water department's financial mismanagement. "We felt it [state audit] was going to be eye-opening, but to me it's actually worse than what I expected... Based on what I've seen in this report, it's very disturbing, and I feel like the matter should be prosecuted."

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.

Board President Larry Craig declined to talk on camera, but told WHNT News 19 he would not resign. Board members Wade Williams and Hugh Moffett also declined to comment, and also stated that they would not resign. Commissioner Smith said he was calling on all three to resign, and said his colleagues would explore all options for removing the men from their positions if they would not voluntarily step aside.

"It's time for those three board members to resign immediately," said Smith. "This money belongs to the people. It was not protected and it should be... We cannot have officials in a capacity such as that being stewards of the people's money serving on boards like that."

The Comptroller's office audit also detailed incidents of equipment that was stolen and illegal shredding of documents by LCPBU employees. Movie tickets, extended hotel stays, and unauthorized airline tickets were all on the list of questionable charges on one department credit card that racked up more than $10,000 worth of expenses.

Officials said that all 24 county commissioners and the Lincoln County District Attorney had received copies of the audit, but how and if they'll act on the findings remains to be seen. Lincoln County District Attorney Robert Carter was not available for comment.

Current LCBPU Director Ronnie Braden declined to discuss the audit's findings on camera, but did issue a brief statement.

"It's embarrassing to me personally because I've never been in a mess like this before," said Braden. "However, I wasn't at the water department when all this happened."

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