A Meigs County, Tennessee, resident angry over the theft of more than $1 million from the county's 911 center plans to ask the center's board to resign in full when it meets Friday night, and the county mayor is making a similar demand.
It's the second time Jeff Thornton will appear before board members calling for their jobs after having appeared before the County Commission twice with no success, he said Tuesday.
"I'm calling for the whole board to resign because they allowed $1 million to be stolen," Thornton said in a phone interview. "They're not doing their due diligence in their jobs."
Thornton is referring to allegations leveled in a Tennessee comptroller's investigation into misappropriation of public funds over a decade's time by the now-deceased Kelly Finnell Taylor, the 911 center's longtime director.
Because she died Feb. 21, 2021, no charges were filed against Taylor, 45, comptroller's officials said in the report. The investigation accused Taylor of misappropriating nearly $1.1 million between between July 29, 2011, and Feb. 17, 2021.
Meigs' 911 district is funded primarily by a 911 surcharge collected by communications service providers, according to the comptroller's report. Day-to-day operations and finances of the district are managed by the director, who reports to the board.
Investigators determined Taylor misappropriated the district's money by falsifying invoices from both real and fictitious vendors and then cashing checks written to pay the phony invoices, investigators said. In some instances, Taylor also forged the signatures of board members on checks and forged the signature endorsements of vendors to cash the checks.
Taylor also provided falsified financial reports to the board and omitted expenditures from those reports to conceal her misappropriation, investigators said. The reports were intended to convince the board the district's spending was within budget.
"The district's board must ensure it provides adequate oversight to prevent fraud, waste and abuse," Tennessee Comptroller Jason E. Mumpower said in a news release on the investigation issued in October. "The board allowed the former director to have complete control over the district's financial documents and bank statements. This allowed the former director to falsify checks on a near-daily basis. The board also failed to correct 13 years of repeated audited findings related to segregation of duties and overspending."
The report notes Meigs 911 officials "indicated that they have corrected or intend to correct these deficiencies," the document states.
That bothers Thornton.
"They will tell you now that they are (addressing problems) because of what went on," Thornton said. "I still think they ought to resign because they allowed it to happen."
Developments may have begun turning Thornton's way earlier this week when Meigs County Mayor Eddie Jewell Jr. sent a letter to 911 board members.
"In an effort to spare more public attention and litigation being directed on this incident, we are encouraging each member of the E911 Board to render their resignations effective Feb. 15, 2023," Jewell's letter states.
"This would allow the commission time to seek out replacements and vote them in at the January commission meeting," Jewell wrote. "Your consideration in this sensitive situation is very much appreciated. We request a written resignation letter submitted to the mayor's office or E911 director's office no later than Dec. 6, 2022."
Jewell noted in the letter that corrective measures and practices were being adopted at the center to prevent future problems, but he also noted Thornton wasn't the only one complaining.
"The community has placed a tremendous amount of pressure on the county legislative body to intervene and remove the existing board," Jewell said. "My hope is the results of the most recent audit will enable each of you to bring closure to this incident."
Jewell said Thursday in a phone interview that he spoke with three of the six existing board members after they received their letters seeking voluntary resignations, and they were receptive to stepping down. Jewell said one member of the seven-person board whose term was expiring was replaced last month, so that post already has a new member.
If the resignations happen, the county's 911 board will be unable to conduct business until replacements are found, Jewell said.
Typically for Meigs County, the county mayor submits nominations, and commissioners confirm them or offer alternatives.
The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the conference room at the Emergency Services Center on state Highway 58.