published Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Former Warren County airport manager rebuts audit

BY THE NUMBERS

Below is a summary of Warren County Memorial Airport's cash shortage between July 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2011.

* $4,482.44: Receipts not deposited with county trustee

* $2,046.39: Voided invoices for fuel sales

* $5,425: Voided invoices for rentals

* $5,510: Lessee hangar rent not paid

* $2,061.01: Voided invoices for the airport manager

* $482.11: Unpaid fuel used by the airport manager

* $784.73: Receipts charged to the airport for personal use

* $20,791.68: Total funds missing

Source: Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury

Warren Co. Memorial Airport audit
Warren Co. Memorial Airport audit
$20,000 missing from Warren Co. Memorial Airport
$20,000 missing from Warren Co. Memorial Airport

A state comptroller's office audit in Warren County, Tenn., revealed that more than $20,000 went missing from the Warren County Memorial Airport between 2007 and 2011, and laid the blame mostly at the feet of a former manager.

While the report doesn't name the manager, the Chattanooga Times Free Press learned that he is John Patterson, who now manages Outlaw Field at the Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport.

Patterson disputed the state report.

"I disagree with the conclusions drawn by the state comptroller's office," he said Friday. "And I emphatically deny any implications of criminal activity in that report."

Patterson said his attorney has advised him not to talk about specifics.

"I have explanations to the findings in the report, but I'm not going to discuss them in detail," he said.

Patterson said he might make those explanations public later.

The audit was coordinated with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and covered the period between July 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2011. According to the audit, the shortage resulted from receipts issued and not deposited with the county trustee, unpaid hangar rentals and use of aircraft fuel for personal benefit. Auditors said $20,791.68 was missing from the airport on the audit's ending date. The report noted that the airport manager resigned during the audit on Sept. 16, 2011.

TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said no charges have been filed and the missing funds are "still under investigation."

The agency's findings will be turned over to 31st Judicial District Attorney General Lisa Zavagiannis's office to determine any charges, Helm said.

Montgomery County Mayor Carolyn P. Bowers' spokeswoman, Elizabeth Black, deferred comment to Clarksville-Montgomery County Regional Airport Authority Chairman Sammy Stuard, who said officials there will wait for the investigation to close before they come to any conclusions.

"He's done a good job for us," Stuard said of Patterson.

"Those are allegations, and there's nothing that's proven. I still believe you're innocent until you're proven guilty."

Warren County Executive John Pelham did not return calls Friday.

The audit included his response to the findings: that it is the "unconditional desire of Warren County that any and all actions necessary to recoup the cash shortage be pursued without delay."

Warren County's Airport Commission stated that the airport manager exercised sole authority to "write-off" tenant accounts deemed uncollectible, though he didn't have the power to do so. Actually, that authority falls to the commission, which makes those decisions at monthly meetings, the audit stated.

Pelham's response also stated that the county will spend up to $10,000 to purchase bookkeeping software specifically designed for airports.

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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