Review finds 'significant concerns' over spending at Lenoir City

Review finds 'significant concerns' over spending at Lenoir City Housing Authority

6 News Reporter

LENOIR CITY (WATE) – An independent review of the Lenoir City Housing Authority finds questionable spending and deficiencies in the agency. 

Dawn Brink has lived in the Housing Authority since March and says it’s a nice place to call home.

“It’s lovely, a great neighborhood, great kids, well kept,” said Brink.

When we showed her the findings of the review, she wasn’t pleased to see where her money was being spent.

“That’s ridiculous, I think that’s ridiculous” she said. 

The Lenoir City Council called for an audit of the agency in March after concerns of over spending were raised. The report conducted by the Knoxville firm Brown Jake & McDaniel was presented Monday night. 

More details: Lenoir City Housing Authority audit report [PDF]

City attorney Jim Scott said the review raised “significant concerns” and he recommended the Housing Authority Board take action. He suggested the board make the internal decision to investigate further or turn it over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I recommend turning it over to TBI to keep an appearance of neutrality,” Scott said. 

The report highlighted excessive spending including more than $70,000 in construction upgrades. A door costing $3,400 was installed in the office of executive director Debbie Cook. The original door cost $850. 

A covered deck and covered stairway was also installed at the Housing Authority office. The new back entrance and three covered parking spaces cost $56,127. 

Housing Authority Board Chairman Frank Hahn said he was outraged by some of the costs. “This is really conspicuous consumption, when you’ve over done the amount of money for an activity,” said Hahn. Hahn began serving on the board in November 2012, after the period of time looked at in the review. He and several other new board members were sitting front row at city council. The executive director was not present. 

The report also revealed numerous discrepancies in travel expenses. There were several cases where per diems were paid to employees and board members at conferences where meals were served.  There were several instances where proper documentation wasn’t kept. A trip to Miami for the SERC-NAHRO Conference found two employees and four board members traveled there a day early.

“There was no documentation available to determine if the additional night hotel stay and the additional day of per diem charges were necessary due to flight availability,” the report found. 

There were several instances where employees were paid per diem on day trips and according to the General Services Administration travel policy, “an employee should not be paid per diems when traveling for less than twelve hours and when they do not stay overnight.” Mayor Tony Aikens called for the board to take swift and appropriate action. 

The Housing Authority meets Thursday and while the board’s chairman says they might not have a decision made on how to proceed, there will definitely be discussion. 

“I think the questions must be raised and an investigation needs to find out how serious they are,” said Hahn. 
The review costs the city $25,000 but Scott says it was necessary given the number of concerns. “Considering the dollars we’re talking about, I think it was important the city monitor how they’re being sent. Keep in mind this is tax payer dollars going to low income housing individuals,” Scott said. 

Executive Director Debbie Cook was not present and the board meeting and 6 News was unable to reach her for comment. 
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