published Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

TBI probes Manchester, Tenn., audit report

Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman
Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Manchester Audit Report
Manchester Audit Report

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into the findings of an audit slamming Manchester, Tenn., for undocumented financial activity in police and fire department bank accounts, unaccounted for fundraiser money and missing donated surplus equipment.

Manchester Mayor Lonnie Norman said he and the town's Board of Aldermen support the TBI probe that he said will allow the city to start over in the wake of the audit with a clean slate.

"I just want an end to it," Norman said Tuesday. "I don't want a black eye for the city. I want it behind me where I can look forward. I want people to know the truth."

The audit issued March 26 by Winchester, Tenn.-based Bean, Rhoton & Kelley PLLC characterizes Manchester's financial records as lacking fundamental "internal control over assets, particularly in relation to the recording of assets acquired as donations from the United States Department of Defense surplus programs," the audit states.

"[W]e found unrecorded bank accounts held by the police and fire departments, the majority of activity in those funds being undocumented," the audit states.

Auditors also found evidence that "certain fundraisers were held in the city's name, the proceeds of which were not able to be identified in any deposits recorded in city accounts."

Norman said that after the audit was released, city staff members talked to him about some of the findings.

As those discussions happened, the district attorney contacted him about whether city officials felt there was a need to probe further.

"I had my secretary call and poll the board and ask if they wanted to go forward [with a TBI investigation]," Norman said. "She polled those six people and all six of them said they wanted to go ahead with it and get it behind us."

Mickey Layne, 14th Judicial District attorney general, described the TBI investigation more as a truth-finding mission. The audit triggered allegations of wrongdoing and questions from the public about officials' conduct, he said.

"The purpose is to get to the truth and to answer the questions raised by that audit," Layne said.

"If there was no criminal activity, the public needs to know it," he said. "If there was and there's sufficient proof of it, then there may be the need for some action."

The explanation could be as simple as "poor record-keeping," Layne said. "We simply don't know."

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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