Designed for transit of poor, van used to go to political event - WSMV News 4

Designed for transit of poor, vehicle used to travel to political event

Updated: Feb 19, 2018 11:35 PM
Executive Director Luke Collins and members of the UCHRA Board used a public transit vehicle to attend the state Republican Party's Stateman's Dinner in August 2017. (Photo submitted) Executive Director Luke Collins and members of the UCHRA Board used a public transit vehicle to attend the state Republican Party's Stateman's Dinner in August 2017. (Photo submitted)
COOKEVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Photographs obtained by the News 4 I-Team showing members of a government agency carrying campaign signs in a public transit vehicle to a political event has the director of the transportation program calling it “not an allowable activity.”

It all began when a public transit vehicle carrying board members for the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency headed for Nashville on Aug. 3, 2017.

The vehicle was primarily used for the transportation of low-income residents in rural areas, to assist with visits to doctors and essential travels.

Luke Collins, the executive director of the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, had filed paperwork through the agency’s transportation director to request the Tennessee Department of Transportation to give him an exemption to use a public transit vehicle for “transportation of government officials for official government business” on Aug. 3.

In a section labeled “purpose/description of service,” Collins wrote, “Vice President in Nashville. Luke and board members attending event.”

The explanation did not elaborate that the event was the Republican Statesman Dinner, an openly partisan event for the Republican Party where Vice President Mike Pence was to speak.


PREVIOUSLY REPORTED: Timesheet shows government official working; video & photos indicate otherwise | Records: Government official paid to attend certain meetings but didn’t show up | Executive director of UCHRA placed on administrative leave


The News 4 I-Team obtained photographs of Collins and others on the transit vehicle from that day, at one point carrying in and holding campaign signs.

The News 4 I-Team showed the pictures to chairmen on the agency’s board and asked if it was acceptable for the transit vehicle to be used for transportation to a political event.

“I don’t think that would be appropriate in my opinion,” said chairman Randy Porter.

The News 4 I-Team also sent the photos to Rebecca Harris, UCHRA’s transportation director, inquiring if she was aware of the actual purpose of the trip and if this was considered official government business.

"Absolutely not and if I had of been informed of that I would have told Mr. Collins that this was not an allowable activity,” Harris responded in an email.

TDOT now has questions as well.

“I think we'd like to follow up and see what the purpose of the trip was,” said Liza Joffrion, TDOT Multimodal Transportation Resources Division Director.

The News 4 I-Team intended to ask Collins about his usage of the vehicle when he agreed to an interview a few weeks ago, but he then backed out the night before.

When we tracked him down at the location of our scheduled interview, he would not leave the building to talk to us.

In a letter to board members on Feb 16, Collins called our earlier reporting into his time sheets revealing he was working while we found him on trips and on vacation “lies.”The News 4 I-Team also found Collins getting his hotel room paid for and daily per diems in order to travel and attend meetings, yet the minutes from those meetings show he did not attend.

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