From Post staff reports
Members of the Gladeville Utility District’s governing board are now waiting for the next step so to speak with regard to a recently completed audit by the State of Tennessee charging that the district’s former general manager had committed a number of management failures including paying himself an unauthorized amount in excess of $300,000. What happens next, according to members of the board of commissioners, is up to the state. By that they mean it will be determined by state authorities as to what legal action may follow concerning alleged mistakes or wrongs made by Clifford Walker, the former general manager of the district. However, in the meantime and actually before the state audit was initiated, the utility’s commissioners put into place a number of policies and safeguards reacting to what they believed were inappropriate actions by Walker and management shortcomings on his part. Matters involving Walker and serving to raise an air of suspicion among the board of commissioners began several months ago when the district’s annual audit was completed and a report of that audit was filed with the District’s commission.
The annual audit, according Eddie McCrary and other commission members, raised a number of questions.
“When the preliminary results of the district’s annual audit revealed issues of unauthorized payments to the District’s former general manager, we as a board immediately took action.” A first step by the board following its own annual audit and internal investigation was to report its findings to the State Comptroller’s Office and ask that the Comptroller’s office conduct its own investigation and audit of the District including all of its accounts. According to the utility board, it also immediately confronted Walker about certain issues found in its internal investigation concerning actions he had taken in the management of the utility district. As a result of the inquiry by the board, board members said that Walker submitted his resignation. The board then moved forward to begin what they have termed as a “regional search” for a new general manager and employed Dan R. Bledsoe, a professional engineer, for the position vacated by Walker. Bledsoe joined the utility district in September of last year. The board also, as a result of its own audit, acted to strengthen financial procedures and controls and strengthened the oversight of day-to-day operations to, according to commissioners, “ensure that GUD employees follow existing financial policies and procedures. In a joint statement, GUD’s board of commissioners said it “remains committed to cooperating fully with all state investigations and to working with the state to recoup any unauthorized payments. The commissioners sincerely regret that these problems occurred and want to assure the customers that the District is financially sound.” Bledsoe said when the District employed him it was made clear by the board of commissioners that “they expected me to carry out their instructions in identifying and correcting any problems at GUD and to cooperate fully with any investigations by government agencies. I have and will continue to do that.” Bledsoe said since taking the reins as general manager he has taken a number of steps to increase accountability and efficiency including enhanced enforcement of existing and new financial procedures and controls; implementing certain recommendations from the State Comptroller’s Office; conducting a review of staffing levels, workloads and responsibilities and streamlining and enhancing the efficiency of the District’s staff; and focusing on improving customer service and upgrading the District’s water system.
“We are working to replace meters, increase our water storage capacity and modernize the water treatment plant. We expect rates to stay the same this year, as we focus on operating the utility as efficiently as possible,” Bledsoe said. Summarizing issues in which the District is involved, Bledsoe said he takes his “duty to safeguard the physical and financial assets of the District very seriously. My goals are to ensure that ratepayer funds are spent appropriately; to continue to improve customer service and efficiency; and to rebuild trust in the Gladeville Utility District.”