State audit probes drug fund, overtime issues for UCSD

Brad Hicks • Feb 21, 2014 at 9:40 PM

ERWIN — The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Division of Local Government Audit is looking into overtime and drug fund issues with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

Meanwhile, former sheriff Kent Harris is freely admitting to playing a role in alerting the comptroller’s office to the overtime issue, though he denies having a vendetta against current sheriff (and his former chief deputy) Mike Hensley, as Hensley said Thursday. The current sheriff could not be reached for comment Friday.

Harris went on to call Hensley’s administration “ruthless. They’ll do anything. I know what they put me through over nothing, over false charges. They’ll lie, cheat and steal to get what they want.”

Harris went through several trials — two of which were declared mistrials and another that saw charges against him dismissed in the middle of the trial — over felony charges lodged against him by a district attorney’s office Harris said was pressured into placing the charges. All of the charges were eventually dismissed by District Attorney Tony Clark after the third unsuccessful attempt at trying Harris.

The flap is over a request recently submitted to the Unicoi County Mayor’s office by Mark Treece, a legislative auditor with the comptroller’s office. It said the state office is seeking both regular and overtime time sheets for Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jonathan Frank Rogers from the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year through the current pay period.

The comptroller’s office also requested time sheets for all other salaried employees receiving overtime payments and an account analysis of the drug fund account for the current fiscal year.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said his office received this request around 10 days ago, but officials thought the matters had been addressed. Lynch said his office noticed several months back that Rogers was receiving overtime pay, something the mayor said has not happened in the past that he is aware of, as it is assumed to be a salaried position and exempt from overtime pay.

Lynch said when Hensley served as chief deputy under Harris, he did not receive overtime.

“My biggest concern, when it first started happening, was we were going to get in another situation where an officer would have to pay back a significant amount of money back to the county,” Lynch said.

Lynch said he talked to Hensley since he thought the chief deputy was exempt from overtime pay, and Hensley advised he had spoken with the County Technical Advisory Service, which gave Rogers the clearance to receive overtime pay. Lynch said he thought the issue had been laid to rest until his office received the request from the state comptroller’s office.

Hensley said his department has done nothing wrong, and he was advised as such by CTAS. He also said chief deputies often hold administrative roles, but he said Rogers serves as an investigator, conducts patrols and answers law enforcement calls. Hensley said Rogers is an hourly employee with his department.

Rogers’ time sheets acquired from the county mayor’s office show Rogers worked approximately 240 overtime hours from the period of July 1 through Jan. 25, with Rogers working overtime hours on around 20 of his regular days off during this period. Rogers has earned a little more than $7,000 in overtime pay since the beginning of the current fiscal year in July, figures in the mayor’s office show. His take-home pay is approximately $39,000.

Lynch said Friday that Rogers is not the only sheriff’s department officer to collect overtime pay.

Hensley was appointed sheriff following Harris’ resignation in March 2012 due to injuries suffered in an August 2010 fall from the Unicoi County Jail roof. Hensley was later elected as sheriff in 2012 to fill the remainder of Harris’ unexpired term.

In June 2012, Harris told the Johnson City Press that he felt Hensley was “going around trying to get my job from me” while he was recovering from his injuries.

But Harris said Friday evening that him having a “vendetta” against Hensley and his administration is “the furthest thing from the truth.”

“It’s convenient for him to turn the tide on a situation that is obviously not right,” Harris said. “A chief deputy sheriff, he’s an exempt employee. He’s on salary.”

Harris said he was a chief deputy prior to becoming sheriff, and he also worked patrols, but never received overtime pay. He said Hensley also did more as chief deputy than administrative work and never received overtime pay.

“He knows better than that,” Harris said. “He’s trying to spin this to the public and media that it’s a political vendetta.”

The former sheriff also said he was involved in alerting the comptroller’s office to the overtime issue.

“I believe the truth needs to come out,” Harris said. “I want to make sure the right thing’s done. It’s purely mismanagement.”

Harris said county residents and elected officials continue to contact him to question aspects of the sheriff’s department’s operations, but he said these people are afraid to come forward themselves due to fear of retaliation.

Meanwhile, Lynch called the county’s drug fund dipping into the red late last year an “oversight.”

The county’s drug account fund did temporarily dip into the negative late last year, trustee’s report information kept in the county mayor’s office said. That report shows the drug fund balance was around $36,000 at the end of November, but went around $7,200 in the negative at the end of December.

That account has since returned to the positive, thanks in large part to an auction held by the sheriff’s department in late January. Information from the Unicoi County Trustee’s office shows that auction netted the department around $18,500 in revenues.

The mayor’s office was in the process of compiling the requested information Friday afternoon. Lynch said several other entities and citizens aside from the comptroller had requested the overtime information. Lynch said the overtime issue involving Rogers was not a criminal act or someone intentionally trying to “get money from the county they didn’t deserve.”

“If, in fact, it turns out that it wasn’t the right thing to do, I think it was just a misinterpretation of the law, which is something that happens,” Lynch said. “People make mistakes. I know that when the drug fund went into the red, it was just an oversight. That’s not really making excuses for it, but those things happen.”

Lynch said he does not know when his office may receive a determination from the comptroller as to whether a violation occurred, but he said he is hoping for a quick response.

“When those things are out there hanging, it make for a bad atmosphere to try to operate in,” he said.

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