Comptroller’s Office: Discrepancies, shortage of funds discovered

Published 5:23 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

Over a year of investigation through the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office finally concluded in regards to previous administrative issues at the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter.
The report from the 16-month investigation by the Comptroller’s Office, which has drawn significant talking points within the community, was released Thursday morning with officials noting a list of weaknesses and deficiencies as of June 2, 2017.
“Policies and procedures are critical to the operation of any well-run government organization,” Comptroller Justin. P Wilson said in a release issued by the department. “This shelter was operating without any written policies addressing its financial operations. When this failure exists, employees have no guidance.”
The report indicated three findings: a cash shortage of $9,516 from the shelter as of June 2, 2017; operational deficiencies within the previous Animal Shelter Advisory Board; and administrative deficiencies during that timeframe under the previous animal shelter Director Stacey Heiden.
The investigative audit was launched following an investigation by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey’s Office, which then moved into review of shelter operations by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in response to a pandemic of feline flu, the second reported instance during that time according to the mayor.
“I started receiving citizen complaints about the questionable management practices of then hired director,” Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said.
Following the UT report, Humphrey terminated Heiden from the director’s position.
According to the report, there were instances that pet owners were allowed to surrender pets and then adopt those same pets to take advantage of the “low-cost spay and neuter fees” provided by the facility. Other discrepancies reported included multiple individuals using the same cash drawer, and a lack of proper documentation of funds raised.
The report indicated that more than $9,000 was not properly recorded. The report lists $280 in adoption fees for animals adopted through PetSense, $6,682 worth of rescue fees, and $2,009 for low-cost shot and microchip which were provided to the Friends Group for deposit.
Humphrey added that the findings from the report were the cause of discontinuing volunteer and foster opportunities at the shelter.
“While I am pleased that the Comptroller’s Office and their staff were diligent in their investigation of my reported concerns to them, there are many things that I and they have found that fall outside the scope of their authority, from what I have been advised by the Comptroller’s investigator, and, consequently, are not contained in the Comptroller’s report,” Humphrey said.
With the report now in the open, plans can continue for the future, according to Animal Shelter Board Chairman Mike Barnett.
During an interview with the Elizabethton Star Thursday afternoon, Barnett indicated that the shelter board has taken the necessary steps to address documentation and is hoping to involve County Attorney Josh Hardin and Finance Director Christa Byrd at the next meeting Jan. 9 to review the audit line item by item to address each issue.
The new Animal Shelter Board was formed several months ago following Humphrey’s resignation as oversight of the shelter.
Barnett added he had spoken with the finance department and was told current Animal Shelter Director Shannon Posada and her staff have gone through the proper procedures of documenting purchases and other items and there are no “glaring concerns.” The addition of a new part-time employee will help with keeping medical records up to date, an issue that was also brought up in the audit.
Proper oversight at the facility has also been addressed with the creation of a new board, Barnett said. In the report, it was indicated the advisory board did not provide the proper oversight, and there were cross meetings with officials and Friends Group members. According to the bylaws of the former board, the group served in just an advisory role to the Mayor’s office in day-to-day operations at the shelter.
“I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus. With an audit, you find the problems, and you correct them,” Barnett said. “We’re addressing those issues, and some we have already tackled. We appreciate the work of the Comptroller’s Office for the report, and we’ll continue at making the shelter something the community can be proud of.”
Volunteer opportunities are available at the shelter now, but Barnett added that individuals must go through a proper vetting process and will not be involved with any finances at the facility.
“We want to provide as much transparency as possible to each government agency,” Barnett said. He added that the Friends Group meetings will fall on different dates away from the new board, and that the nonprofit group will take the proper channels of logging funds through the finance department.
There are still issues appearing in an investigation by the mayor’s office, according to Humphrey, and he added Thursday that he hopes to have them announced by Spring 2018.
“My investigation is still on-going,” Humphrey said. “I am working with state officials, in Tennessee and other states, to address several matters to try to bring them to closure involving harm to the citizens of Carter County and others in the region as well as other states.”

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