Investigation reveals missing money from Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter

Johnson City Press • Dec 7, 2017 at 10:51 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A long-awaited report from the Tennessee comptroller’s office on the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter indicated there was a cash shortage of $9,516 as of June 2.

The report, released Thursday, indicated the shortage was in four different areas.

The largest shortage was $6,682 in money that should have been paid to the shelter by rescue groups when they received dogs or cats. That money was to be a reimbursement for veterinary services that an animal received while in the shelter.

The report said $5,323 in veterinary fee refunds was diverted to the Friends of the Elizabethton/Carter Co- unty Animal Shelter’s Pay- pal account and another $1,359 to the Friends’ bank- ing accounts.

The investigation looked at financial records from December 2015 to June 2017.

The report said the investigator was told the fees were given to the Friends’ group because it had originally paid for the veterinary services on the rescued animals. The comptroller’s report also said some rescue contracts were “incorrectly filled out by omitting dates, names, signatures, and some documents were missing,” but the comptroller investigator was able to determine that the shelter paid for the majority of the veterinary services for the animals given to the rescue organizations.

The investigator said these diversions of funds were done without the authorization of the Elizabethton/Carter County Anim- al Shelter Advisory Board or the Carter County Commission. The investigator said the action also caused the Carter County Humane Society to incur an undetermined loss because its contributions to the shelter were supposed to be used only for spaying and neutering of adopted animals.

The investigator for the comptroller’s office said an additional $2,009 was diverted from the shelter to the Friends group.

The report said this was money raised by the shelter in a low-cost vaccination and microchip clinic. The investigator said he was told the funds for the clinic had originally come from the Friends group and that was the reason the fees collected were forwarded to the group. The investigator said he determined the microchips used by the clinic had been bought by the shelter.

The investigator also reported that $545 in donations and $280 in adoption fees had also been diverted.

The report recommended that steps should be taken to determine whether the $9,516 in unaccounted funds could be recovered.

The report also said there were operating deficiencies and administrative deficiencies.

The first deficiency listed was that the advisory board did not provide sufficient oversight and did not have written policies and procedures for the shelter.

The report also found fault with the fact that the advisory board and the friend’s group had the same members on their boards. It was standard for the board to first convene as the advisory board, when its business for the meeting was completed the same board would reconvene as the friend’s group.

The advisory group’s by-laws established its seven members as the Carter County mayor, the Elizab-ethton mayor or his designee, one member of the City Council, one member of the County Commission, one member of the Carter County Humane Society and two members of the Animal Shelter Building Committee or friends group.

Among the list of administrative deficiencies noted was a practice where a pet owner could surrender an animal to the shelter, then return and reclaim it after it had received veterinary services, taking advantage of the $35 or $45 fee for spaying or neutering and free vaccinations provided by taxpayers.

Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey felt vindicated by the report.

He had requested the comptroller investigation of the shelter in the summer of 2016 when he said he discovered funds and donations had been diverted. “I immediately notified the (Carter County) finance director, who notified the comptroller’s office. “I then made a formal request to (the) comptroller’s office to open an investigation,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said for the first several years he had been mayor he had relied on the shelter director to properly maintain the shelter. He said that worked well while April Jones served as director.

Jones left the shelter in 2015.

Humphrey said in the fall of 2015 an epidemic broke out in the cat side of the shelter. He said the shelter had never experienced such a problem in the past. A second epidemic occurred in the spring of 2016 and third in June 2016. He said that led him to fire the shelter director at the time.

He brought in the Univer-sity of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine to audit the shelter and he also discovered the financial issues. Humphrey said he received a lot of criticism when he assumed direct oversight of the shelter, but he said the report explains a lot of his actions, such as his decision to stop accepting volunteers to help with shelter operations.

While Humphrey said he is pleased with the comptroller’s investigation, “there are many things that I and they found that fall outside the scope of their authority.”

As a result, he said his investigation is ongoing. He said he is working with state officials in Tennessee and other states to address the other incidents he said cross state boundaries. “I hope to provide a full report of my investigation findings in early 2018, depending on court schedules,” he said.

Mike Barnett, chairman of the advisory board, said many of the recommendations in the comptroller’s report have already been met. The advisory board has been reorganized and now made up of three county commissioners, three city council members and one citizen. The friends of the shelter have a separate board.

Barnett said he has discussed the findings with the county’s finance director and with the county’s attorney and made sure that the shelter’s procedures are in accordance with the law and proper financial practices.

Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander said corrections have been made and he said the comptroller’s report will provide guidance. “We will use the report to fix the problem. We will work on them together,” Alexander said of the joint city and county shelter and board.

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