Two New Johnsonville employees traveled 500 miles and used more than $7,000 in taxpayer money to run a personal errand for Mayor Lance Loveless, according to a new audit.
But things went terribly wrong during the trip, and, according to Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson’s audit, the mayor hid certain details from the City Council.
The reported errand involved the public works director and another city employee going to South Carolina to pick up a new vehicle for Loveless’ personal use.
With that much time and effort, did the vehicle at least have Bluetooth, or power windows?
Loveless did not immediately return Tennessee Watchdog’s messages for comment Friday, nor did Public Works Director Charles Kent.
The Humphreys County Grand Jury indicted Loveless this week on one count of theft of more than $1,000.
Despite this, City Council member David Cagle said he and fellow council members have no plans to ask Loveless to resign.
“The way I see it, you are innocent until you are proven guilty. The council I don’t think can do anything until he goes to trial,” Cagle said, adding the mayor is serving the first year of a four-year term.
“If he does go to trial and they say he’s not guilty, then we might have smoke on our face, per se.”
According to the audit, Kent and the other city employee drove a city truck and a trailer 520 miles to Columbia, S.C., for no other reason other than to help Loveless.
“On the return trip back, the city truck broke down, leaving it stranded in Unicoi County, nearly 400 miles (from) New Johnsonville, the audit said.
“When contacted by the public works director about the breakdown, Mayor Loveless engaged a towing service from Knoxville. Mayor Loveless directed the city recorder to charge the city’s debit card for the $990 cost of towing the city truck, trailer and personal vehicle approximately 300 miles to a car dealership in Madison, Tennessee,” according to the audit.
The dealership service department repaired the city truck, which included installation of a new engine, at a cost to the city of $5,500, the audit said.
An explanation to the council about repairing the truck omitted any detail of the circumstance surrounding the breakdown, the audit continued.
“Mayor Loveless told investigators that he was unaware the public works director had taken a city truck on his personal errand until notified of the vehicle breakdown. The mayor stated the public works director must have misunderstood his directions and believed he had permission to use the city vehicle,” the audit said.
Loveless acknowledged to comptroller investigators he knew the city truck was being used for his personal errand when he ordered the cost of the towing to be paid by the city.
The audit later said Loveless gave a verbal reprimand to the public works director.
“He did acknowledge that he kept the true nature of the trip and circumstances of the breakdown from the full council and from the public.”
The public works director told investigators there was absolutely no misunderstanding between him and the mayor.