An internal investigation into the Upper Cumberland Development District may have inner problems of its own. Questions have been raised about some of the UCDD members selected to help investigate.
During last week’s special called session of the UCDD Executive Committee, it was announced that members of the board would be assigned to a committee to help attorney Bob Walker in his internal investigation into any problems within the organization.
According to development district vice chairman and Warren County Executive John Pelham, he will be on the committee with UCDD chairman Mike Foster, and board members Kim Blaylock and Ron Cyrus.
“I was asked to be on the committee,” said Pelham. “As chairman of the Upper Cumberland Development District board, Mike will also serve on the committee. Kim Blaylock and Ron Cyrus volunteered.”
Walker, a private attorney, was hired to investigate the allegedly corrupt financial activities of UCDD executive director Wendy Askins, specifically her investment of UCDD funds into a retirement facility called Living the Dream.
Living the Dream is governed by a board. While attempts by the Southern Standard to obtain a current list of Living the Dream board members was unsuccessful, Pelham is a past member.
“I was on the Living the Dream board,” said Pelham. “I stepped off that board in July of last year. Two county mayors are on it right now.”
Pelham says he is the only UCDD member asked to be on the special committee that has been on the Living the Dream board.
“To my knowledge, that’s true,” he said. “I think I’m the only one who has served on both Living the Dream and this special committee.”
Pelham says he was on the board for approximately a year and does not see his past presence on the board as a conflict with his current position on the special committee.
“Under the circumstances, I don’t see a conflict,” he said. “The attorney is going to be presenting to us the information he uncovers about checks written from UCDD funds for construction of Living the Dream. Those on the Living the Dream board never dealt with construction issues. We only looked at the need for housing in communities and how many people we were serving.”
When it comes to financial backing for Living the Dream, Pelham added, “Until this investigation, I didn’t know about some of those loans for Living the Dream. Our only discussions on the board pertained to the need for housing and how many people we were helping. We did not discuss financial issues.”
Walker’s investigation should be complete within 30 days. Pelham says his past presence on the board will not change those findings.
“I can assure you that whatever findings come out will be shared with the full board,” he said. “My presence on the special committee is in no way a conflict. I was asked to serve, and I agreed.”
Also on the board will be Foster, who was accused by UCDD board member Chris Thompson of assisting Askins in covering up a transfer of $300,000 for Living the Dream construction when he read bogus minutes into a Jan. 19, 2012 meeting and asked members to retrogressively date it back to Feb. 16, 2010
“In my opinion the board was blind sided with confidence in you to make this motion to back up and cover for her,” Thompson said to Foster.
Foster pointed an accusing finger at Askins.
“I read the minutes that she gave me,” he said. “All I did was read them. I don’t remember the February 2010 meeting.”
Cookeville residents L.D. Herron and his nephew, Terry, say they have been following the UCDD overspending since before Channel 5 News got involved and uncovered the scandal.
“We came to a meeting with concerns about overspending by Askins at Living the Dream before all this blew up,” said L.D. “This board told me I was wrong. They stood up for her then and they will protect her now. I don’t settle for anything less than her firing.”
Terry says when they first heard of Living the Dream they took a trip to the facility and were shocked by what they saw.
“The main house is pure luxury,” he said. “The apartments for the residents are smaller than a hotel room. It’s probably big enough for a twin-size bed and bathroom. That’s it.”
L.D., a contractor, says he came to that first meeting to discuss excess spending after seeing Living the Dream. He said the board’s response angered him.
“They said I was wrong,” he said. “Exactly what was I wrong about? You know what the sad part about this is? In 10 years there will be a different board with new members doing the exact same thing. If it wasn’t for the media, she would still be spending. This organization became the ‘Kingdom of Wendy.’”
Pelham’s presence on the special committee to the attorney after being on the Living the Dream board is viewed as a conflict by Terry.
“He shouldn’t be on the special committee,” Terry said. “That’s definitely a conflict of interest.”