Chattanooga official at center of investigation into McKamey insurance buy

Chattanooga official at center of investigation into McKamey insurance buy

November 1st, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

People walk into the lobby at McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

A high-ranking city official is in the middle of a city investigation into whether, as a board member of the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center, she helped put her husband in a position to earn close to $30,000 selling the center insurance.

An internal audit memo released last week by City Auditor Stan Sewell calls the allegation involving Marie Chinery, deputy to Chief of Staff Dan Johnson, unfounded.

But two McKamey board members said Chinery recommended her husband, Doug Chinery, as a candidate to provide insurance to the shelter.

"She was aware," said Karen Walsh, McKamey executive director. "She put him forward for the insurance."

Sewell's memo states that in 2009 and 2010, Walsh authorized hiring Doug Chinery as the center's insurance agent. The memo states that Marie Chinery never voted on the agreement.

But Walsh said the memo is wrong. She said Marie Chinery sat on the executive board, which looks at the center's financial dealings, and also heard discussions during board meetings.

Marie Chinery could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Doug Chinery, with Hamilton Place Insurance Agency, said the memo was correct. He said Walsh came to his home and asked how he could fix the animal center's policy.

"As far as I was concerned, I was dealing with the decision maker," he said.

No board minutes reflect that Chinery voted in the decision to place the center's insurance business with her husband.

He has been paid close to $30,000 since 2009 for policies related to the shelter, city records show.

Sewell's audit also stated that payments to Doug Chinery of more than $2,500 in 2009 and 2005 violated the animal center's bylaws, which required all spending over $2,500 to be approved by the center's board. In 2010, the board boosted the ceiling to $10,000.

City Attorney Mike McMahan called the insurance payments a gray area. He said that under the city's ethics policy, the board could hire Doug Chinery as long as his wife didn't vote.

But the fact that it is a spouse complicates the issue, he said.

"It kind of falls between," he said.

Ann Ball, who was board chairwoman when McKamey bought the insurance, said she thought the city audit memo presented incomplete facts. She said the board voted on the insurance as part of its overall budget, and Chinery abstained from the vote.

Ball said the board didn't feel it was inappropriate for Doug Chinery to be the shelter's insurance agent. But she also defended Walsh, saying it was not Walsh's sole decision and confirming Marie Chinery's involvement.

"It was her suggestion that he could possibly offer a lower rate," Ball said.

Ball said the board took bids and Doug Chinery was the lowest bidder.

She said the board then approved the expenditure when it passed its budget.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said McKamey is an outside agency with its own bylaws, so the city has no control over how it performs. But he said the nonprofit agency needs to get its house in order.

"This spat is very juvenile and doesn't seem to have the interest of the animals in it," he said.