Following the release of the state audit of Lincoln County for Fiscal year 2020, one finding was discovered: “A county commissioner and a school board member had indirect conflicts of interest.”
Following three years of clean audits, this finding was novel and did not appear to be a major impropriety. The exact finding is as follows: ‘During the audit period, Lincoln County made 27 payments totaling $5,472.43 for supplies to Tractor Supply Company, the employer of a county commissioner’s spouse, and 42 payments totaling $77,445.66 for supplies to Lincoln County Vending, the employer of a school board member. These payments to businesses that employ a county commissioner’s spouse and a school board member violate Section 5-21-121, Tennessee Code Annotated, which states “members of the county legislative body…members of the board of education…shall not be financially interested or have any personal beneficial interest, either directly or indirectly, in the purchase of any supplies, materials, equipment, or contractual services for the county.”‘
As stated in the language above, the finding related to indirect relationships of financial interest, trespassing the personal separation from financial relationships incumbent upon those working in county government. The individuals in question were named in the official report.
Members of the county government submitted a response to this finding, stating that they did not concur and citing a few pieces of case law that call into question the usage of key terms in the above finding. The county’s response concluded as follows: “In reviewing the facts and circumstances in your finding, in neither circumstance does the spouse in question have any ownership interest in the company. The county commissioner’s spouse is an hourly worker, and the school board member is in a salaried position with the supplier. Neither received any personal benefit from the purchase of supplies by the county. There was no inquiry by your department as to whether there was any commingling of assets between the commissioner and his spouse which appeared to be a factor in the Attorney General opinions.”
The auditor commented on this response, rejecting the citations as means of altering the finding’s conclusion.
A corrective action plan was composed by outgoing Finance Director Cole Bradford, reading as follows: “Lincoln County officials and other County officials operating under the Financial Management Act of 1981 (“the Act”) will actively pursue a resolution through the Tennessee General Assembly by working with the numerous county/school associations, the Comptroller’s Office, and State Legislators to have legislation passed to cure this problem statute. Lincoln County will call a Financial Management Committee Meeting immediately to initiate the review of the FY 19-20 Audit and the Findings and Recommendations. In the meantime, County officials will review the Act to start the resolution process for the finding. The Board of Education will do the same. Lincoln County Vending is in the final year of their bid which expires on June 30, 2021. We will rebid these products for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year.”