By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – The subject of per diem, or travel reimbursement, is expected to make its way on the next UCHRA executive board meeting agenda.
Following the publication of a letter from agency attorney Danny Rader to board chairman Curtis Hayes (Livingston city mayor) in the Cannon County newspaper, the Cannon Courier, further questions were raised by a Nashville-based TV news station.
The investigation performed by WSMV-TV reveals information that indicates Cannon County executive Mike Gannon was investigated by the state comptroller’s office in 2011 for using a county-owned vehicle to travel to UCHRA meetings but that “the matter was resolved.”
Rader’s letter to Hayes addresses concerns that some board members were accepting per diem and/or reimbursement for travel expenses. While Rader’s letter doesn’t list board members accused of accepting agency funds, it does spell out that it is acceptable for board members to receive per diem, or per day, pay to assist with travel expenses when attending to UCHRA business.
While board members are not paid for their service, the per diem pay, Rader says in his statement, is meant to be a small gesture of gratitude to members for their attendance.
Those who elect per diem reimbursement are eligible to receive roughly $0.47 per mile. For those members traveling to the Cookeville office from surrounding counties, fuel costs can quickly add up.
“You’ve got some (city and county mayors) who drive probably 70-plus miles one way to come to the meetings,” said Putnam County Executive Randy Porter.
But what if a board member, using a county-owned vehicle and county-provided fuel to travel meetings, requests a per diem reimbursement but doesn’t provide the reimbursement check to the municipality in question?
According to Cannon County city attorney Mike Corley, there are no records that Gannon ever submitted reimbursement checks to Cannon County, though UCHRA’s human resources department allegedly confirmed Gannon received reimbursement funds from the agency.
That double-dipping has some board members wanting to take a hard look at the agency’s rules regarding reimbursements.
“If you’re driving a city or county vehicle you either, number one, shouldn’t be taking the mileage check, or you should be giving it back to your (respective) city or county,” Porter said.
Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton agreed, stating reimbursement makes sense as long as someone is only getting paid once.
Both Porter and Shelton are among those who opt to use their personal vehicles rather than use a government-issued vehicle. Porter and Shelton both tell the UCBJ that they have never requested nor received mileage reimbursement from the agency.
Prior to each meeting, board members are handed an expense sheet that they can complete and submit for reimbursement, Shelton told the UCBJ.
“I’ve been on the board for almost four years. I’ve been offered that sheet. There’s never been a conversation at a board meeting that I’ve been at that’s ever said what it is or what it isn’t; what it should or shouldn’t be; should it be changed, should it not be changed,” he said, regarding the practice of reimbursement. “There’s never been a conversation about it. I don’t know how long the practice has been going on.”
Porter has requested the topic be added to the agenda of the next UCHRA board meeting.
In recent months, board members have made extensive changes to the agency’s bylaws which, according to some board members and legal representation, did not align with state law.