Farley, board begins UCHRA cleanup

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – Mark Farley, UCHRA‘s interim executive director, isn’t wasting any time digging in and working to correct the embattled agency’s current course. Farley, named to the interim post last week during a continuation of the regular February meeting, has already begun combing through the agency’s processes and finances.

“This organization needs to take a moment, from a management side … they need to take a look at how they do business and what they’re doing and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” said Farley.

One of the top issues, Farley says, is addressing numerous reported inefficiencies within the agency. One such struggling, inefficient program was the agency’s workforce development program. That program has since been placed in the care of the Upper Cumberland Development District – the agency whom Farley is the executive director of – in an effort to improve efficiency and bring the program back to operating standards. During UCHRA’s management of that program, important deadlines were reportedly missed as well as poor documentation and other concerns.

“You had employees in place that let the ball drop and could never get the job done,” Farley said. “That was totally inexcusable and (we) can’t let that continue on.

“You had more money being eaten up by administrative costs and very little going into actual programs costs; very little actually going to the consumers and the residents of the region,” he added. “That didn’t just happen in workforce (development).”

The agency is reportedly hemorrhaging approximately $3 million from its operating budget from overhead and related costs and UCHRA’s nutrition program stands to be eliminated if funds are not recaptured to allow it to continue, according to Farley.

“This organization needs to take a long, hard look at how it is set up and how it is operating from an administrative standpoint because you cannot continue on like this. We need to maximize our system to run as lean as possible and to get as much (sic) dollars out the door of this agency and into their hands.” – Mark Farley, UCHRA interim executive director. 

Each department within the agency, Farley says, needs “a little soul-searching moment” to determine the best strategies for maximizing efficiency and reducing waste and overhead; all while ensuring the needs of the consumer base are the agency’s top priority.

“I can keep the doors open and the lights on and things running until the next person comes in or I can start fixing problems. If I start fixing problems, I’ve got to be able to have control of personnel,” Farley said.

Farley says he’s looking into the possibility of reassigning employees to different departments; adding that potential layoffs aren’t out of the question. The board unanimously approved the motion made by Kenneth Carrey, and seconded by Mickey Robinson, to give Farley the authority to hire or fire UCHRA employees as necessary.

In addition to providing Farley with additional authority, board members learned further details of their own authority to select consumer representatives. UCHRA’s legal counsel, attorney Danny Rader, reported his research findings regarding that process. Consumer representatives are supposed to be nominated by their respective county leader and then be voted on by the agency’s executive committee. However, that process has reportedly not been followed for some time.

READ MORE: UCHRA board names Farley interim director, questions consumer reps

“However we got here, the bylaws don’t match the state statute really at all,” agency attorney Danny Rader told board members. “In recent years, as my understanding, the executive director (Luke Collins) has had a pretty strong hand in selecting the persons who are the consumer reps for the various counties.”

That, Rader says, presents a conflict of interest; particularly in this case. Consumer representatives also serve on the agency’s policy council – the same council that oversees the employment of the agency’s executive director.

“We have the executive director picking his or her boss – that is inherently problematic,” Rader said. “We need to correct that.”

Rader advised the agency’s bylaws regarding consumer rep selection should be updated to reflect state statutes and grant requirements. An estimated 17 individuals have been serving as consumer reps since 2011. James Starnes, UCHRA deputy director, says his team can review the list of those consumer reps currently serving and cross reference the UCHRA database to see if those representatives are, in fact, receiving agency services – a requirement by current state law.

In other business, Rader says he has provided the agency’s third-party investigator with the first round of documents for review. The investigator, Tim Pirtle, who serves as the city attorney for McMinnville, has requested the board sign off on an engagement letter that states he is working only for the executive committee; and that he will not represent the board with any other ongoing investigations into the agency.

The board recessed with plans to reconvene Mar. 29 at 8 a.m.

Amye Anderson is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached at amye@ucbjournal.com.