Mayor pays back tax dollars after pocketing money - WSMV News 4

Mayor pays back tax dollars after pocketing money

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Luke Collins sits at the UCHRA Board meeting on Feb. 20, 2018. The UCHRA Board voted to place Collins on administrative leave with pay at the meeting. He was terminated at a meeting held on May 9, 2018. (WSMV) Luke Collins sits at the UCHRA Board meeting on Feb. 20, 2018. The UCHRA Board voted to place Collins on administrative leave with pay at the meeting. He was terminated at a meeting held on May 9, 2018. (WSMV)
COOKEVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

One of the mayors at the center of a News4 I-Team investigation has paid back more than $700 taxpayer dollars that some of his own board members said he should have never personally accepted.

Livingston Mayor Curtis Hayes submitted a check today to the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency.

Hayes, along with other mayors in the upper Cumberland area, all sit on the board for the UCHRA.

A News4 I-Team investigation revealed how Hayes, Woodbury Mayor Andy Duggin and Cannon County Mayor Mike Gannon all accepted reimbursement money for years to travel to UCHRA meetings, but were seen driving or riding in city or county vehicles.

Instead of paying the reimbursement money to their cities or counties, the mayors kept the money.

Hayes did not respond to a question by the News4 I-Team on Tuesday as to why he paid the money back, but it comes as the TBI launched a criminal investigation into Duggin and Gannon to see if it was a misuse of public funds.

Jennings Jones, the District Attorney General for Cannon County, requested the TBI investigate Duggin and Gannon. He does not represent the district where Hayes lives.


PREVIOUSLY REPORTED: Government agency that serves poor could cease as independent organization |  District attorney reviewing findings by state investigators | Executive director of government agency terminated after I-Team reports | Time sheet shows government official working; video & photos indicate otherwise | Records: Government official paid to attend certain meetings but didn’t show up | Designed for transit of poor, vehicle used to travel to political event | Embattled agency director placed on administrative leave | Executive director of government agency terminated after I-Team reports | Agency board knew of complaints about executive director 2 years ago


While Hayes did not agree to a request for an interview with the News4 I-Team when we first investigated the reimbursement issues, he did respond in an email that he thought the money was a standard per diem for his time and not just for travel expenses.

The existing regulations for UCHRA read that the reimbursement is only for travel mileage expenses and the board on Tuesday voted to confirm that reimbursement is only for mileage to travel to the meetings.

MONEY IN, MONEY OUT

In the same UCHRA meeting, the board voted 12-7 to pay a severance package worth more than $27,000 to terminated director Luke Collins.

The termination comes following a series of News 4 I-Team investigations, including how he used a public transit vehicle to attend a political event, how his hotel rooms and per diems were paid for to attend out of town meetings yet records indicate he did not attend and his time sheets that show he was working while we found him on trips and on vacation.

A scathing state investigation also highlighted the same findings, and the district attorney is examining the case.

After his termination, Collins submitted a grievance, claiming that he was improperly terminated and that people within the agency conspired with the News4 I-Team.

In the grievance, Collins asked to be reinstated as the director.

“How do you explain to the public that you deserve money after you were terminated from this position?” asked to the News4 I-Team.

“I've filed a grievance and its public information,” Collins said.

Steve Jones, a UCHRA board member from Macon County, said it stung that the agency has to pay Collins after terminating him.

Mark Farley, the interim director of UCHRA, said the board made the decision believing it was a cheaper alternative than facing an anticipated lawsuit by Collins.

“Obviously, in any situation like this, you would prefer not to pay anything. But looking at potential lawsuits, legal bills you would occur, while it's a hard pill to swallow, sometimes it is the prudent business decision,” Farley said.

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