The state comptroller's office has revealed an incredible amount of corruption and wasteful spending by the former head of a group that is supposed to help develop local economies.
The Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD) promotes economic development and helps write grant requests for 14 counties, including Cumberland and Fentress Counties. The Cookeville-based organization is funded overwhelmingly by state and federal tax dollars. UCDD board members include the mayors and executives of the governments it serves.
A state audit shows the board members were not involved in direct oversight of UCDD, which allowed its former executive director, Wendy Askins, to spend enormous amounts of money on personal items unrelated to her job. The audit says the largest example of corruption comes from a senior living center project called "Living The Dream."
The state report said Askins spent $1.4 million of your state and federal taxpayer dollars to fund the Living the Dream project. Some of that money was for the senior living center and most of it was spent on Askins.
The senior living facility was constructed as a single-level facility with modest living quarters with wall-unit air conditioning units. That stands in stark contrast to the luxurious adjoining multistory main living quarters Askins constructed as a personal home for herself and her daughter.
The dream home comes complete with a $1,500 fireplace and a staircase with a price tag of $25,000. The home also features a couple of steam showers for Askins and her daughter's bathrooms that cost $6,000 each.
The audit says Askins spent a total of $24,000 on furniture for herself and immediate relatives.
Askins gave up her seat earlier this year amid investigations into improprieties. She resigned in March, 2012.
The State Comptroller's Office posted the full report on its website. It also posted a pdf photo gallery comparing the home Askins was living in to the senior living quarters.
The mayor of Crossville and the head of the Chamber of Commerce for Cumberland County spoke to 10News about their reactions to the audit. Both expressed surprise at the amount of inappropriate spending by Askins. They also said they are hopeful UCDD can return to its intended role now that it has new staff and leadership in place.
"It is something we need to promote the area. It [UCDD] is designed to promote and provide economic development," said Crossville mayor JH Graham.
"It sounds as if all of this will hopefully get them [UCDD] back on track," said Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce CEO Beth Alexander. "I know they recently hired some good people recently like Wallace Austin [from the chamber in Sparta]. Those are the type of people I look forward to working with."