The director of Chattanooga's Youth and Family Development program will be suspended for one week after apparently misusing nearly $30,000 in nonprofit funds over about 18 months, giving more than half of that money to his daughter's organization, according to city officials.
YFD Administrator Lurone Jennings will be issued a formal letter of discipline, ordered to go through a mandatory ethics training, and given a performance improvement plan, said Maura Sullivan, the city's chief operating officer.
Jennings did not follow city rules when he distributed $27,500 in donations and grants from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, according to a memorandum from city auditor Stan Sewell.
The money was supposed to be used to provide temporary jobs, work scholarships and educational services to high school students as needed for high school graduation, according to the memo.
But in June and July, YFD administrator Jennings gave $18,500 to his daughter's nonprofit, Journey Educational Services, in order to put on a summer camp for children with disabilities, according to Sewell's memo, which was sent to city officials on Wednesday.
The summer camp does not seem to meet the purposes agreed on by the city and Community Foundation, Sewell wrote. Jennings also violated the city's conflict of interest policy, which forbids city employees from participating in matters in which they have a personal interest.
When interviewed by Sewell, Jennings admitted that giving the money to the organization run by his daughter, Luronda Jennings, was a conflict of interest. He said he "expected it would come back to haunt him," according to the memo.
He told Sewell he was thinking about helping the kids when he made the payments, which were distributed in three increments, but later realized the conflict of interest. He said his daughter was at a "crucial time" and he wanted to help her, but now believes he made the wrong call.
The memo includes a quote from Jennings:
"I'm guilty and whatever the consequences, the challenges I have to face... I have to pay the piper too, as I have to be accountable, as I expect others to be."
He did not answer a call on his cellphone Friday.
Maeghan Jones, president of the Community Foundation, said in a statement she is glad to see the city's response to the misuse.
"We understand from the auditor's report that the YFD Administrator has taken responsibility for his actions and we are glad that the city is taking steps to address the matter," she said.
In addition to the $18,500 Jennings gave to his daughter, he also used the Community Foundation's money to pay for mediation training, summer camp scholarships, a storage space rental and basketball hoops.
Of the $27,500 that Jennings spent, only about $1,500 appears to have been used for purposes that align with the agreement between the Community Foundation and the city, according to the memo.
Sullivan said the city has also stripped Jennings' authority to make contractual and financial decisions for Youth and Family Development. Those decisions will now be made by the city's finance department.
"The City of Chattanooga works diligently to ensure every city employee provides superior customer service, efficiently and effectively uses taxpayer dollars, and adheres to the highest standards of trust given to us by the people of our city," she said.
Read tomorrow's Times Free Press for complete details on this story.