Patches of Fog
NEW JOHNSONVILLE, Tenn. - He bought his personal truck in South Carolina, but the problem for one mid-state mayor was how to get it back home.
A NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered documents showing taxpayers spent thousands of dollars on a journey to get the mayor's truck from South Carolina to Middle Tennessee.
At first, Mayor Lance Loveless of New Johnsonville, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates he did nothing wrong.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates pointed to the Mayor's yellow pick-up and asked, "Did you send a city employee all the way to South Carolina to pick up this truck?"
Mayor Loveless responded, "He was actually, yea, it was, but he was on his own time."
On September 6, 2012, the city's public works manager, Rich Kent, took a city truck and drove more than 500 miles to Columbia, South Carolina, where he picked up the Mayor's truck.
Mayor Loveless explained, "He was going to pick up some military equipment and you know, in the process, I was looking for a truck. And I found a truck in that area."
But when NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked to see proof that New Johnsonville bought military equipment at that time, the city said it did not exist.
The mayor later admitted Kent drove to South Carolina just for his truck.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Did he use the city gas card?"
Mayor Loveless responded, "No."
But the city's gas receipts show he did.
New Johnsonville taxpayers paid for gas along the route: $89 in Dandridge, Tennessee, and $103 in Roebuck, South Carolina.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates continued asking about the trip, "Do you think that's appropriate?"
Loveless responded, "Well, I mean it's something on his own time."
But documents showed Kent was not on his own time.
Kent claimed on time cards provided by the city, that he clocked out at 4 p.m. on September 6.
But gas receipts from that day show he was 300 miles away from New Johnsonville, buying gas at 1:41 p.m. on September 6.
He was paid 8 hours for the next day too, but the mayor claimed that was comp time.
If that were all that happened, it probably would have gone unnoticed.
But in a stroke of really bad luck, the engine in the city truck blew out near the North Carolina border, while it was pulling the mayor's new truck back to New Johnsonville.
Instead of getting it fixed near North Carolina, potentially raising suspicion about why it was so far away, the city paid a towing company nearly a thousand dollars to tow it all the way to Madison.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Did taxpayers cover the cost of that tow?"
Mayor Loveless responded, "Hmm, it was broke down. I really can't remember the aspects of it, but it was something to that effect."
Taxpayers paid $990 for the tow, and another $5,500 for a new engine in the city's truck.
The mayor had to get the large repair approved approved by the city council.
So, he proposed an ordinance stating simply, the city's truck "malfunctioned" and was towed to the "nearest Dodge dealer" where it was repaired.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates countered, "It was not towed to the nearest dealership. It was towed across the state."
Mayor Loveless questioned, "Across the state?"
NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed the receipt, "This towing company is from Knoxville, Tennessee."
Loveless said, "Okay, well, the truck broke down where ever it was at."
The mayor denied the wording in the ordinance was designed to hide what really happened.
"What difference does it make where it was towed to?" Loveless asked.
As the interview ended, he said had no regrets about how he got his truck.
"I don't see a problem with it, and nobody else does either," Loveless claimed.
A few days later the mayor changed that answer.
He said he only told two city council members the full story about how he got his truck.
Now that everyone knows, he said he does see a problem with what happened.