By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – Nearly 24 hours after the state comptroller’s office released a report documenting its findings into allegations made against former UCHRA director Luke Collins, officials are anxious to move forward.
The 10-page report released Thursday details a thorough review of complaints lodged against Collins including mismanagement of funds and failure to properly document sick and annual leave.
District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway told the UCBJ he is in the process of conducting a thorough review of the audit to determine if any criminal charges stemming from the report’s findings are likely.
“It’s early for me to determine if there’s something criminal or not,” he said. “There’s not an urgency. We’re going to go through it carefully and see if there’s anything to be done.”
Bryant added there’s no typical turnaround timeframe between the first review of an audit and the issuing of any criminal charges.
“Every case is unique,” he said. “If there are elements to the report that I think are criminal, then there may be additional investigations to be done, there may be additional information I ask investigators to gather and, then again there may not be.”
The UCBJ made another attempt to speak to Collins’ attorney, Will Roberson. However, our calls were not returned prior to publication.
Collins was fired earlier this month immediately following an attorney-client privilege meeting in which agency board members, and their respective legal counsel, discussed the findings of an independent investigation conducted in recent months.
“I am both thankful and disheartened by the comptroller’s findings that further corroborate the results of our own internal investigation leading to the dismissal of the executive director earlier this month,” Putnam County Executive Randy Porter said. “It troubles me that this agency continues to have so many issues regarding the proper use of taxpayer’s money, but I’m extremely grateful that we now have a clear roadmap as to how to resolve some of the deficiencies within the organization.”
Mark Farley, UCHRA’s interim executive director, says he takes the findings and recommendations provided by the comptroller’s office very seriously.
“Any time the comptroller issues a report such as this, we take it very seriously,” Farley said. “I can assure you the organization is going to take this report and review it and any recommendation that’s included in there, we will be more than willing to implement any changes we feel like need to be made.”
Going forward, the agency’s board will likely continue to clarify verbiage and policy measures to ensure the future executive director has a more clearly-defined role and responsibilities. UCHRA board members have worked, in recent months, to revise and clarify discrepancies within the agency’s bylaws.
“I think we’re probably going to sit down and have a very long discussion about how do we rebuild the (agency’s) reputation,” Farley added. “That’s going to involve talking about what the executive director can and cannot do and also a conversation about the board as well.”
The UCHRA, a multi-million-dollar operation that administers several programs to citizens, is based in Cookeville with several regional offices throughout its 14-county service area. The agency serves Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren, Warren, and White counties. According to the agency’s financial statements for its 2017 fiscal year, major programs included the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Transportation, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Nutrition, Residential, Community Services, and Commodities programs.
During the course of the comptroller’s investigation, the fiscal agency responsibility of the Local Workforce Development Area Seven programs was removed from the UCHRA and transition to the Upper Cumberland Development District. Meanwhile, the service provider responsibility of WIOA remains with the Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency.
“The UCHRA is extremely important to many of our area’s citizens,” Porter added. “We, as a board, need to get past the politics involved and make sure this agency is able to continue providing the vital services intended and our region deserves.”