Audit at Mayor's Office Reveals Questionable Spending

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Knoxville (WVLT) - A draft audit presented to Knox County Commission Monday states a misuse of taxpayers' money, including "disguised compensation" in the County Mayor's office for auto and travel allowances.

Also, Mayor Ragsdale suspended the use of 161 of his administration's 170 purchasing cards. An investigation into questionable spending found at least one employee, Requitta Bone, an executive assistant in the Community Services department, used her card for personal travel expenses and gasoline.

She has been placed on unpaid administrative leave. Meanwhile Mayor Ragsdale is making several changes to the P-Card program to prevent another incident.

Volunteer TV's Whitney Daniel has more on both county spending investigations.

There are two audits happening within Knox County government right now. One is at the request of the county commission, looking into the auto and travel expenses of the county mayor's executive staff.
The other is an internal audit within Ragsdale's office, looking into questionable spending with county-issued credit cards.

The County Auditor spells it out in bold letters stating money used by some members of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's Administration is an "unsubstantiated reimbursement" or "disguised compensation".

"That some people were receiving a car allowance and being provided a county-owned vehicle -- clearly, that's wrong -- you should get one or the other, but you shouldn't have both," county commissioner Scott Moore said.

The draft audit shows the Mayor's office is $21,000 over the budgeted $20,000 for an auto allowance.

"It's something that we need to address, and we're going to address it seriously. We don't think wasting taxpayer money is appropriate and we're going to take the action and steps to fix it and we're going to fix it quickly," Moore said.

Ragsdale has a different response:

"I have a lot of concerns, because I don't think a lot of it is accurate," Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale said.

He didn't have much else to say about the draft, except that his office will respond Friday. He did, however, speak to the Internal Purchasing Card Audit he's conducting in his office.

"I'm not pleased with the way that program's worked. It has too many flaws in it, there have been some abuses, some misjudgments, and until we get it corrected, we're just going to stop using it," Ragsdale said.

He's suspended use of 161 of the executive branch's cards, only nine needed for essential daily operations, will remain active. Another 163 cards used by other County Departments will remain in use at the discretion of the individual officeholders.

"The overwhelming majority of that is spent the right way, but when it's not spent the right way, we need to address it, and that buck ultimately stops with me. We're going to fix it, period, case closed, that's it, we're fixing it," Ragsdale said.

In addition to the suspension, the Mayor is forming a committee to review the P-Card program. Meanwhile, the County Auditor will continue his work on the audit the county commission requested on May 24th.

"If they have taken money they shouldn't have, that we get re-imbursed for it and also to see if there's any other actions that needs to be taken," Moore said.

Recommendations from the auditor include referring concerns to the Knox County Law Director and Ethics Committee.

"I'm hopeful that the public is seeing that we're trying. We're trying to go through the process, gather information and do the right thing," commissioner Mike Hammond said.

Ragsadle will appear before the Ethics Committee July 6th to address the concerns the group may have.

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