A special called meeting of the Upper Cumberland Development District’s Executive Committee has been scheduled this Friday in Cookeville.
The meeting is expected to address Upper Cumberland Development District executive director Wendy Askins, who has been the subject of a News Channel 5 corruption investigation.
News Channel 5 has leveled a number of allegations at Askins in her role as leader of a state government agency that last year distributed some $60 million over a 14-county district that includes Warren County.
Warren County Executive John Pelham is a member of the Executive Committee and also serves as vice chairman of Upper Cumberland Development District. He says he expects plenty of discussion on those allegations.
“Friday’s meeting is a chance for the board to get together and discuss everything that’s been on TV,” said Pelham. “I don’t want to give a comment at this point and say exactly how everything will end up, but there’s no question things need to be changed and they will be changed. I don’t think I’m breaching any confidentiality when I say there will be significant changes and adjustments.”
Some of the more prominent allegations are that Askins lives in a $1 million mansion that was meant to be an upscale retirement center, that she reimbursed herself for thousands upon thousands of dollars in expenses that were really for personal items, that she provided doctored meeting minutes after an open records request, and that she employed four family members, including her mother and father, and all four had personal vehicles paid for by the state with gas cards, and cellphones paid for by the state.
The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office is investigating the claims, along with Nashville attorney Bob Walker, who was hired by UCDD to conduct an independent investigation. Pelham says Walker has advised all board members not to comment specifically on any allegations.
McMinnville Mayor Norman Rone is also an Executive Committee member, although he says he will be unable to attend Friday’s meeting.
“Needless to say, I’m pretty unhappy about all this,” said Rone. “I’m really shocked.”
Rone also declined to go into specifics, citing legal advice.
Tennessee Technology Center employee Marvin Lusk is also on the Executive Committee and he said yesterday he will be at the meeting.
Pelham says he is hopeful attorney Walker will present some of his findings to the Executive Committee on Friday.
“He said he will not complete his process until March, but he might have some information available at the meeting on Friday,” said Pelham. “It will still be awhile after that before he makes his final recommendations.”
The meeting will be held in Cookeville at the UCDD office at 1125 S. Willow Avenue located off exit 286 on Interstate 40. The meeting is set for 10 a.m.