State Lawmakers Promise UCDD Investigation - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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State Lawmakers Promise UCDD Investigation

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Lawmakers are now promising a full investigation of what some are calling a full-blown scandal involving the Upper Cumberland Development District.

It follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation of the Cookeville-based agency that's supposed to create jobs and help the poor.

Those lawmakers say their constituents are demanding answers -- the same message being heard on talk radio.

"When you are seeing dollar go to lavish parties and political fundraisers rather than the people in our communities who really need help, I think people can understand that in a more visceral, more direct and more personal way," said Nashville talk show host Steve Gill.

"I think that's why people are outraged by this."

They're upset about all the money spent by the UCDD on a million dollar home that was supposed to become a home for seniors, but also became home for UCDD executive director Wendy Askins.

There's also agency money spent on alcohol, political fundraisers and gifts.

During Thursday's show, Gill urged his listeners, "Do not let them look the other way. Do not let this story go away without these people being called to account."

"It's a message being heard on Capitol Hill where Lebanon Republican Mark Pody has called a meeting of all the legislators from the 14 Middle Tennessee counties served by the UCDD to begin their own investigation.

"We want to find out exactly who is doing what and what the extent of this is," Pody said. "This is taxpayers' money and we need to know what's going on."

It's an idea supported by Rep. Charles Curtiss, a Democrat from Sparta, who actually serves on the UCDD board. Curtiss says he was stunned by what we discovered.

"The board is a part-time board. We are not there, sitting there all day, and we don't know," he explained. "We've been getting audits back every year and nothing has shown up in those audits that would cause us any grief."

It's grief they're now hearing loud and clear.

One caller to Steve Gill's show joked about UCDD officials, "I wish they put them on chain gains."

Pody says he wants to get all the lawmakers from those 14 counties together next week to discuss a plan to begin their own investigation. He anticipates that legislative hearings could come at some point after that.

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