Overview:

Call for audit does not include all commissioners

The Clayton Crescent has obtained a copy of a July 21 memo by Terminus Municipal Advisors that found the county paid $37,402 for former Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins’ doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University and recommending additional audits of county finances:

The county released the memo Friday after The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request on August 3. In that memo to Chief Operating Officer Detrick Stanford and Interim CFO Stacey Merritt, Terminus’ Mac Underwood wrote, “(W)e were advised that the County made several direct payments to Vanderbilt University and were asked to review the County’s policies and procedures to determine if the payments were properly authorized and paid.”

Underwood wrote that Terminus “verified that several payments totaling $37,402 were made to Vanderbilt University for tuition/transcript fees over an eighteen (18) month period for an executive level employee. We also determined that a signed letter from a member of the executive management team allowed Vanderbilt University to bill/invoice the County directly for the fees described. Based on our review, it does not appear that proper authorization was received and the employee that signed the letter may not have been properly authorized to approve the billing/invoicing and subsequent payments.”

The memo does not state who signed the letter authorizing the payments. The Clayton Crescent asked Chairman Jeff Turner whether he had signed the letter. He said he had no comment but that he had not signed it, the audit “if asked will address it” and that “There was no wrongdoing on anyone’s part.”

The memo also noted that, according to Human Resources. “the County does not have a tuition reimbursement policy/program,” and that Bivins’ contract allowed for “payment for travel and subsistence expenses of employee for professional and official travel, meetings, and occasions to adequately continue the professional development of employee and to pursue necessary official function of Employer, including but not limited to such other national, regional, state and local government groups and committees in which Employer serves as a member.”

Bivins’ contract also allowed for “short courses, institutes, and seminars that are necessary for the Employee’s professional development and the good for the Employer.”

Underwood recommended that the county hire an auditor to look into some combination of “Executive Management only; Executive Management and Department Managers; or All employees.” Specifically, Terminus recommended auditing travel and training expenditures for:

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • County Attorney
  • “county managers and/or department heads”

At the August 2 BOC meeting, Turner suggested expanding any audit to include all commissioners (starts at 13:50):

“If that’s the will of the board, you can do what you want to do,” said County Attorney Chuck Reed.

District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis said, “My thing would be to modify the resolution to include that now.”

Franklin said, “We need to make sure that this firm is tied to your [Reed’s] arm, through the [county] attorney’s office, based on my research,” then called the question. District 1 Commissioner Alieka Anderson seconded.

The board voted 3-2 to pass the resolution without adding an audit of all commissioners.

In June, the BOC voted 3-2 not to renew Bivins’ contract and to terminate her current contract but did not state publicly its reason for doing so.

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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