Missy Crutchfield must go

Missy Crutchfield must go

December 12th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Missy Crutchfield, Chattanooga Administrator of Education, Arts and Culture

Photo by David Banks

Last week, it was revealed that Sandy Coulter, a 32-year Chattanooga City employee who managed the Tivoli Theatre and Memorial Auditorium, resigned after an internal audit uncovered misappropriation of funds.

A memorandum from City Auditor Stan Sewell indicated that "approximately $12,000 in cash" used to pay advances for shows at the two venues sat in an envelope in an unlocked safe -- in an unlocked office -- "accessible to any staff retrieving office supplies." Further, the petty cash account available to the Tivoli Theatre and Memorial Auditorium employees contained a staggering $10,000 balance -- and no one properly balanced the books for the account.

Perhaps worst of all was the auditor's finding that the venue's employees wrote a number of checks to "cash." That practice is especially concerning, since, as Sewell points out, "there is no way to actually track where the money is being spent or who received the money."

Coulter apparently took advantage of the lax financial controls at the venues she managed, which led to her resignation. The resignations should not stop with Coulter.

Astonishingly, the October memorandum, was not the first time city auditors discovered problems with how money was managed and the books were balanced at the city-owned, taxpayer-funded performance halls. It was at least the fourth time since 2005 city auditors came to the Department of Education, Arts & Culture, which manages the venues, with many of the same exact problems, a review of audit documents revealed.

In an interview last week with Times Free Press reporter Cliff Hightower, Missy Crutchfield, the top administrator of the Department of Education, Arts & Culture, claimed that she never addressed the venues' financial issues because the city's internal audit and finance departments repeatedly told her the problems could be addressed later.

Sewell denied Crutchfield's allegation that his office turned a blind eye toward the inadequate financial protections taking place at the Tivoli and Memorial Auditorium. "We've never said they not fix the problem," he said.

In other words Crutchfield is alleging that the person whose job it is to be the most reliable and trustworthy watchdog of tax dollars -- the city auditor -- said there was no need to worry about repeated financial mismanagement within a city agency.

If only there was some way to determine which of the two city employees -- Crutchfield or Sewell -- was telling the truth.

There is.

While inspecting the Municipal Auditoriums petty cash account, auditor Barry Teague wrote an email to Crutchfield in June 2011 pointing out that, once again, venue employees were writing checks to "cash." In the same email, Teague stated that he "cannot think of a reason a business should write a check to 'cash'." He then reminded Crutchfield that city auditors demanded the check-writing practice be stopped as far back as 2005.

Crutchfield emailed a response later the same day promising, "I will address this first thing tomorrow."

That's strange, isn't it? Crutchfield saying "I will address this first thing tomorrow" in response to a reprimand from a city auditor doesn't seem anything like "they said to fix the issue later" line she tried to sell the public last week.

Now that we know that Crutchfield is the liar -- not Sewell and his team of auditors -- the question is: What should be done about the issue?

Crutchfield's $107,000 annual salary is only the beginning of what she has cost taxpayers. The city's mismanagement of the two venues under her watch is estimated to cost city residents $805,000 this fiscal year alone -- and that doesn't even count the unknown amount of money that might have been lost or stolen as a result of Crutchfield's unwillingness to fix the venues' weak financial oversight.

In addition to Crutchfield's blatant failure to act in the best interest of taxpayers, she was also apparently willing to invent a lie in an attempt to cover up her irresponsible actions. Meanwhile, she threw the city's audit department under the bus and made them appear untrustworthy, inept and lacking in integrity.

When in a position of public trust, there can be no excuse for failing to respect taxpayers' money, ignoring repeated calls to fix problems or dishonestly calling the integrity of another agency into question. As a result, Crutchfield should join Coulter in resigning.

If Crutchfield fails to resign for the damage she's done to taxpayers and the reputation of the city's audit department, Mayor Ron Littlefield should make the decision to hand Crutchfield a well-deserved pink slip.