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NewsChannel 5 Investigates: UCDD

New Boss Hired To Lead Troubled UCDD

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By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Upper Cumberland Development District has a new boss, and he said that he's got a plan to steer the Cookeville-based agency through its troubled waters.

On Tuesday, the UCDD board voted to hire White County Finance Director Mark Farley as its new executive director.  Farley was one of five finalists interviewed by the full board during a special session.

"There's only one way to restore the reputation of this organization, and that's the same way you gained it in the first place -- being dedicated to the mission and working as hard as you can every day," Farley said during his interview.

It was the same basic message that the other finalists laid out for the board during the 90-minute session.

"UCDD is a wounded agency needing rehabilitation," said businessman Billy Woodard, adding that the new executive director needed to calm down employees who "are constantly wondering what is going to happen next."

The agency -- which was established by the legislature to create jobs and help the poor -- now faces serious financial problems as a result of massive overspending under former executive director Wendy Askins.

Askins resigned back in March, rather than face a vote over whether she should be fired.

That controversy followed an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation.

Following Tuesday's meeting, NewsChannel 5 broke the news to the new agency boss, who was waiting for word in the executive director's office with the other finalists.

"It's going to be very difficult," Farley acknowledged. "But time heals all wounds and, I think, in time -- as we get back to work and do the business that we're supposed to do -- those wounds will heal and we'll move beyond this."

UCDD Chairman Mike Gannon said that Farley's finance background makes him especially suited for the job.

"We've got a new beginning," Gannon said. "And I think all the board -- the sense I got today from them -- all the board will fall behind him, and we're going to turn this place around."

The board voted to set the salary for the new executive director at $90,000 a year -- which is $20,000 less than the salary for Askins. She also got a take-home car, which is a perk that Farley apparently will not be getting.

State auditors are still working on their report, and the FBI has its own investigation.

E-mail: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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