Rhea County officials used taxpayer money on a number of questionable things, including a new car for the county executive, Christmas parties, flowers, and gift cards for county employees, according to a new state audit.
Among other things, county officials also spent more money than budgeted and did a lousy job managing their books.
“Questionable expenditures included a donation to the Campbell Memorial Scottish Highland games, a vehicle purchased for use by the county executive, a Christmas party for employees, flowers for an employee, pagers and service fees for the county executive and Emergency Management Agency director, and gifts and gift cards for employees,” Comptrollers wrote.
According to the audit, county taxpayers spent, among other things, $8,999 on a 2007 Ford Expedition for the county executive and $700 on catering a Christmas dinner for county employees. They also spent $3,563 in credit card payments to Lowes for Christmas party gifts.
“Many of the expenditures noted-above do not appear to benefit the citizens of Rhea County, but rather appear to benefit only the employees of the county,” auditors wrote.
“Gifts were purchased and distributed to county employees without properly accounting for their use. The practice of purchasing items to be distributed as gifts without adequate documentation increases the risks of fraud and abuse. Also, we found no documentation in the minutes of the County Commission that indicates approval of catered parties or the purchase and distribution of gifts to county employees.”
County Executive George Thacker told The Tennessee Star that auditors got certain details wrong. The car, he said, went not to him but to the sheriff’s department.
County officials also spent $56,500 on a patching machine for the county’s Highway Department without seeking competitive bids, auditors wrote.
By state law, county officials must seek competitive bids for purchases exceeding $25,000.
“The failure to solicit competitive bids could result in the department paying more than the most competitive price,” auditors wrote.