A forensic audit of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office budget requested by the county commission has turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, according to the Tennessee Comptroller's Office.
The Bradley County Commission voted in August to ask auditors to look into a number of allegations as part of the annual county audit, which was released Tuesday.
Commissioners were suspicious about spending in several areas, including the jail food budget, and the use of credit cards in the sheriff's office.
But comptroller's office spokesman John Dunn said Tuesday the auditors found nothing wrong in the sheriff's office budget.
"Auditors spent approximately 200 hours on these allegations," Dunn said in an emailed statement. "We reviewed each of the allegations and found many of them to be baseless or incorrect. Based on the records we reviewed, and county employees we interviewed, no evidence came to our attention to indicate the allegations were valid. The Sheriff's Office does not have any findings in this FY 2017 report."
Noting that there is still an open investigation into the sheriff's office by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Dunn said the comptroller's office has been keeping the special prosecutor, 4th Judicial District Attorney Jimmy Dunn, informed and also sent the results to the Bradley County Attorney's Office.
County Mayor Gary Davis was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
The sheriff still faces trial on 12 felony counts of possessing or using forged automobile titles in relation to his side business as a used car dealer.
A special judge could rule this week on a motion to dismiss the charges filed by Watson's attorney, James F. Logan Jr.
Two commissioners who spearheaded the questioning that led to the TBI investigation and the forensic audit said Tuesday evening they were doing their duty by raising the issues and asking for outside eyes on the sheriff's budget.
Commissioner Thomas Crye said any public official who believes he or she has information about wrongdoing by a local government official is required by state law to report it under Tennessee's Instances of Fraud Reporting Act.
"Based upon the allegations that had been made, it was appropriate and I and other members of the [county commission's] finance committee requested assistance from the state comptroller's office," Crye said.
"From a brief review of the comptroller's report, it is evident that the allegations made to myself and other members of the county commission were not valid. The public should be reassured that their elected officials were performing their duties as a fiduciary agent of the county funds."
Among commissioners' concerns were a history of issues with credit card usage in the sheriff's office as well as a settlement of more than $180,000 with food service company Aramark after a billing dispute. According to County Attorney Crystal Freiburg, the sheriff's office believed Aramark was overcharging for jail meal service. The county worked out a settlement and switched to a different vendor.
"There were over 144 findings last year with the credit card. The audit was put in place to make sure all the problems had been straightened out, including the issues of paying for food service," Commissioner Dan Rawls said Tuesday.
"We made the right decision to have the audit done to make sure those things have been corrected. Now we'll work on the latest two departments that have findings so the taxpayers can be proud of the job that the commission has done and that we were elected to do."
Thought the overall county audit showed a positive picture of the county's finances, with a healthy fund balance, solid internal controls and no significant deficiencies, auditors found the general fund required adjustments and that the mayor's office didn't make timely payments to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. That drew an $11,929 penalty.
County Finance Director Rena Samples said the glitches were related to a buggy software upgrade installed in June 2016 that was corrected within days.
The auditors also dinged the road superintendent's office for not getting competitive bids on an equipment purchase, and the clerk and master's office for not properly reporting and paying excess fees to the county.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.
This story was updated Dec. 19, 2017, at 11:25 p.m. with more information.