By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – The Upper Cumberland Human Resources Agency is making headlines and, once again, the executive director of the embattled agency is at the center of the latest unfolding drama.
Luke Collins has held the agency’s top office since 2012 and, since that time, has had a number of complaints filed against him from now-former staff members. Most recently, accusations surfaced alleging Collins wrongly instructed employees to charge some of their time to the agency’s transportation department.
According to minutes from the December 2017 executive committee meeting: “Luke said he has never asked anyone to lie on their time sheets, but if there were ‘grey’ areas that they had no program to charge it to, then they should find work for transportation and charge it to that. Lee Webb (UCHRA Community Services Director) spoke about actual time captured in the Community Services Department and how this was the first year that they had not made money in the CSBG (Community Service Block Grant) and LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) programs and that it was because of the extra time entered on the time sheets.”
The minutes from that meeting then go on to state that Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey, Jr. told the board he “had been informed that Luke Collins had made the comment concerning actual time captured – that they should just charge extra time to the transportation department because they had plenty of money.” Carey then says he reported those comments to auditors who recommended the matter be turned over to the state comptroller’s office.
A spokesperson with the state comptroller’s office would neither confirm nor deny to the UCBJ that there was, in fact, an ongoing investigation involving Luke Collins and/or the UCHRA. However, minutes from the December 2017 board meeting indicate an investigation is underway; though it’s unclear what the focus of that investigation is.
Collins is also the subject of an investigation conducted by WSMV, a Nashville TV news station. A teaser for the station’s investigation released Wednesday morning indicated the program would air later in the evening.
During the December 2017 meeting, the board also discussed whether to allow Collins to present a plan of action for ‘making cuts and straightening out the finances for the agency’ to the board or to wait for the results of the comptroller’s investigation. Carey then suggested that Collins’ plan be presented at the board’s February meeting; slated for Tuesday, Feb. 20. Wilson along with Spencer Mayor Mickey Robinson and Pickett County Executive Richard Daniel voted in favor of the proposed Feb. 20 deadline but lost to the majority of board members who submitted a “no” vote.
In April 2016, Collins was the subject of another investigation; though the specifics of that investigation were not made public. However, in a 14-8 decision, the majority of board members voted to keep Collins in the executive director position. Those eight members who voted to dismiss Collins included Daniel, Overton County Executive Ben Danner, Byrdstown Mayor Sam Gibson, Livingston Mayor Curtis Hayes, Putnam County Executive Randy Porter, Robinson, Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton, and Wilson.
In September 2017, Porter submitted a request to the state, asking that the UCHRA be relieved of its workforce development program duties due to the agency not adhering to reporting deadlines and making late payments, among other issues. The agency reportedly lost approximately $600,000 in grants alone due to mistakes. The Upper Cumberland Development District will assume responsibility of that program beginning Mar. 1.
Porter declined to comment on the investigation but offered the following statement: “They have some great programs at the UCHRA – the transportation program, Meals on Wheels, the workforce development (program),” he said. “But, those programs can’t survive if the management of the agency is not where it should be.
“The most important thing to me is making sure that all of those people are being served – the citizens that are being served by that agency – (and) those services are being performed,” he added.
The executive committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Feb. 20.