Mayors accused of pocketing taxpayer money

 

Three mayors who sit on the board for a government agency have been receiving and cashing reimbursement checks for mileage even though they are driving city vehicles with gas already paid for by their cities.

Attorneys and clerks confirm while the mayors have cashed the reimbursement checks paid to them by the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, they have never passed that money on to their cities or counties.

“It’s a misuse of funds,” said Jana Hill, a former UCHRA employee.

The UCHRA is a government agency in Cookeville tasked with providing essential services including Meals on Wheels and transportation to doctors appointments.

The agency reimburses mayors for their mileage, as most drive their own vehicles and spend their own money to drive to the meetings.

In December, the News4 I-Team watched as Woodbury Mayor Andy Duggin and Livingston Mayor Curtis Hayes left the UCHRA board meeting and drove away in city vehicles.

A Woodbury city employee drove the vehicle for Duggin.REPORTED PREVIOUSLY: Timesheet shows government official working, video & photo indicated otherwise | Records: Government officials 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 | Mayor tries to block interview, pushes reporter | Agency board knew of complaints about executive director 2 years ago | TDOT launches audit to see if UCHRA leader mishandled federal dollarsWhen UCHRA handed out their bi-weekly and monthly reimbursement checks, both Duggin and Hayes asked for reimbursement and the checks were cashed.

Neither the city of Woodbury nor Livingston have ever received money from those reimbursements, as the checks are directly written to the mayors themselves.

The News4 I-Team shared our findings with other board members, including Richard Daniel, the mayor of Pickett County.

“If board members are driving city vehicles (to meetings), should they take the reimbursement?” asked the News4 I-Team.

“I would think not, but if they take the reimbursement, then I would think they would need to depositing that (money) back in their county’s travel accounts because that’s where it should go,” Daniel said.

Hill unsuccessfully sued in 2012 after she was let go from her position with UCHRA.

Hill’s lawsuit claimed that Cannon County Mayor Mike Gannon also pocketed the agency’s money as he drove a county vehicle to the board meetings and then requested mileage compensation.

In 2011, a Cannon County watchdog group documented Gannon driving a county vehicle and claimed he drove it to UCHRA meetings.

Cannon County attorney Mike Corley confirmed Gannon’s use of the county vehicle, writing in an email, “Several years ago, Mr. Gannon occasionally drove a county-owned vehicle to UCHRA meetings in Cookeville. This usage was investigated by the Comptroller's office, and the matter was resolved. Mr. Gannon ceased its use."

Corley also confirmed that there is no record of Gannon every depositing reimbursement money from UCHRA into his county’s account.

“It’s been difficult to watch,” Hill said.

The News4 I-Team found in roughly just over three years worth of reimbursements, Gannon, Duggin and Hayes received more than $3,000 in reimbursements.

To put that in perspective, that amount would have paid for more than $400 worth of hot meals for Meals on Wheels.

The News4 shared and attempted to share all of our findings with the three mayors and asked for interviews to discuss their cashing of the checks.

“There's nothing you want to answer about whether or not you pocketed this money?” asked the News4 I-Team.

“No,” said Hayes.

While Hayes would not answer questions, he did state in an email that sometimes he drives his personal vehicles and other times a city vehicle if he also has business in Cookeville that day.

He wrote that his monthly reimbursement is a small sum for his inconvenience and that he thought the money was for his time.

When we attempted to interview Gannon about the reimbursements, he referred all questions to his attorney.

But that attorney said he only represented Gannon in a separate TBI investigation launched in the wake of another News4 I-Team investigation.

Woodbury Mayor Andy Duggin also would not agree to an interview.

Over the phone, Duggin said the video the News4 I-Team captured on him leaving in a city vehicle was not an accurate description of what he was doing.

Duggin said he drives his personal vehicle to Cookeville to visit his son, and then the city vehicle picks him up and drives him to the UCHRA meeting.

Duggin explained that he then catches a ride from the meeting to where he parked nearby to visit his son.

When asked why he authorized a city employee to drive a city vehicle from Woodbury to pick him up in Cookeville and drive him across town to a meeting, Duggin said he thought the city employee needed to be at the meeting.

The News4 I-Team thought he should explain that to his constituents in an interview, but when we went to his office at 2:30 in the afternoon, he was not there.

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

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