published Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek rebuts comptroller's remark about audit

Grundy County, Tennessee, 2011 Audit
Grundy County, Tennessee, 2011 Audit

ALTAMONT, Tenn. -- Grundy County Mayor Lonnie Cleek doesn't dispute findings in a state comptroller's report released last week, but he takes issue with an assertion that county officials don't care about record-keeping.

Some of the record-keeping problems identified in the audit for the year ending June 30, 2011, arise from a new administration learning the ropes, Cleek said Monday. Cleek was elected in August 2010.

"But by no means are we lackadaisical in handling the county's funds," Cleek said. "Most of [the findings] are procedural issues and technicalities that we can fix."

Cleek was reacting to state Comptroller Justin P. Wilson's remark in a news release last week that "maybe record-keeping practices aren't being taken as seriously as they should" in Grundy County.

Cleek wants county residents to know "we take everything we do seriously," he said.

However, comptroller's office spokesman Blake Fontenay said the number of findings in Grundy's audit is significant.

"Having two dozen findings is a high number," Fontenay said of the 23 total in the county's audit.

The 2011 audit shows the county mayor's office had seven findings, the director of schools' office had eight and the remaining eight were divided among the highway superintendent's office, the county clerk, court clerk's offices and the sheriff.

Auditors found the county mayor's office didn't account for transactions of the county-owned sewer system in an "enterprise fund," and they found problems with purchasing procedures, overspending, reconciliation of a payroll bank account, payments not received on a lease with a local industry, authorizations for employee salary amounts and a recurring finding on segregation of duties, records show.

The audit states Cleek's office overspent by $15,907.95 cumulatively in the "mayor's office" category, "county buildings" category and "miscellaneous" category, which Cleek said came from bills paid in June 2011 after the Grundy County Commission's last meeting of the fiscal year. The County Commission meets on the third Monday of the month, and Cleek said bills paid after that meeting were not officially approved by commissioners in fiscal year 2011.

Cleek said the "enterprise fund" for the county-owned sewer system is a recurring problem, but that he and other officials are working with financial staff to set up the fund recommended by auditors. He said officials also are working to improve purchasing documentation.

The county hasn't pressed Benchmark Tool & Die for its $48,000 lease-purchase payment for 2011 because officials believed it was more important to keep jobs in place rather than possibly forcing a workforce reduction or worse, Cleek said. He said officials hope that as the company rebounds, it can catch up the payment.

Cleek said the remaining findings can be corrected with the recommended paperwork and redoubled reconciliation efforts.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at 423-757-6569 or bbenton@timesfreepress.com.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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