A Chattanooga department administrator may have violated four city policies by running a for-profit, online publication using city time and resources, an informal audit found.
City Auditor Stan Sewell’s audit, released Wednesday, states that “policies were violated” by Department of Education, Arts and Culture Administrator Missy Crutchfield and department spokeswoman Melissa Turner when they were running Be Magazine. Sewell said at least one of the violations could be a firing offense.
He wrote that Be Magazine did not appear to be operated for personal gain and acknowledged that Crutchfield and Turner told him that.
“Regardless of whether the statements of Ms. Crutchfield and Ms. Turner are accurate, there remains an appearance of impropriety,” Sewell wrote.
City Council Auditor Randy Burns said Wednesday he would not conduct his own audit, but would read Sewell’s report and make sure the audit committee’s questions were answered.
The audit committee could meet next week after City Council Auditor Randy Burns finishes his report, but no time has been set. The audit committee will hear reports from Burns and City Auditor Stan Sewell, then forward findings to the City Council.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to do double work on this,” he said.
Burns said he would begin preparing his report this week and the audit committee should be able to meet sometime next week.
Crutchfield could not be reached for comment.
She was named administrator for Education, Arts and Culture in 2005 when Mayor Ron Littlefield created the department. Richard Beeland, spokesman for Littlefield, said Tuesday the mayor and administration would reserve comment.
“It would be improper for us to comment on it until it goes to the audit committee and the [City] Council,” Beeland said.
Sewell stated in his memo that running the magazine out of a city office could violate state law by implying a contract between the city and the magazine.
It may violate the city’s nepotism policies because Crutchfield is Turner’s supervisor, he wrote, and it violates city code by using city resources for personal venture, he said.
Sewell recommended that Turner either resign as vice president of Be Communications LLC or step down as Education, Arts and Culture spokeswoman.
Beeland said Wednesday Turner would not be available for comment.
During his investigation, Sewell said he found that neither Crutchfield nor Turner had filled out forms required when city employees take outside jobs.
Such a violation could result in firing, he wrote.
Sewell said the use of city resources and cross-marketing of the magazine in publications gave the appearance of an implied or unwritten contract, which would violate state law since city employees are not allowed to have contracts with the city.
But he noted that the mayor had asked for all city references to be taken off the magazine’s website.
Sewell wrote that he found no city money used for the magazine, but the use of city time and resources could be seen as a benefit.
Beeland would not comment on whether there could be additional discipline for either woman.
“As far as we’re concerned, there was never any intention to deceive,” he said.
Crutchfield works directly for the mayor. Whatever the final report says, the council may have no authority to impose any discipline or reprimands, according to city code.
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...