A state agency unannounced has taken over the investigation of allegations that city-owned scrap materials may have been converted for personal use and has placed an informal gag order on city officials to keep them from commenting on the probe.

The Division of Municipal Audit of the Tennessee Comptroller's Office takeover of the investigation of allegations of misdirected scrap metal in city departments apparently caught interim City Manager Mike Turner by surprise. Turner was in the process of conducting his own investigation at the direction of city council when this week a representative from the comptroller's office walked into his office and said the state was taking the probe over.

"From this point forward, they said to let the investigation take its course and for me and members of the city council to not discuss the investigation," Turner told council Tuesday night. "I did not request this. It does not mean I would not have."

Roxanna Pierce, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Comptroller's Office confirmed that an investigation was ongoing. She could not release how the comptroller's office came to be involved in the case and said it was department policy to not predict how long it would take to get a final report.

Generally, the comptroller conducts audits in the field and then returns to generate a report which includes findings, if there are any. The entity being probed, in this case the city, will then be given a copy of the preliminary report and be offered an opportunity to respond within a certain amount of time.

The formal response can include, but not be limited to, what measures are being taken to correct whatever problem is found.

Last month, following accusations from Councilman Jesse Kerley, the Crossville City Council directed Interim City Manger Mike Turner to investigate scrap metal and other concerns raised in the meeting. Turner reported Tuesday that as he was working on the next steps of his investigation, the state took over, ordering Turner not to talk about the investigation or reveal the names of any employees investigators had interviewed.

Interviews were to be conducted Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week, Turner told the council.

Turner told the council that before the investigation left his control, he had taken care of the issue of scrap metal at the department of public works. Turner arranged for scrap metal containers to be placed around the department and, when those get full, the scrap metal company picks up the containers and will send a check to pay the city for value of the scrap metal.

The council decided not to discuss the investigation, but to let it go forward and then take action based on the results of any report. Turner said he did not know who had contacted the Division of Municipal Audit but, at the time they came in, he was in the process of looking for someone to preform the audit portion of the investigation. Turner also added one of the investigators told him the cost of using the division of municipal audit would be about 25 percent of what a commercial auditor might charge.

The council approved moving forward immediately with the new city manager recruitment process. Advertising will be placed in the Crossville Chronicle, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the TML Town and City, the Tennessee City Manager's Association Newsletter and the Tennessee Career Centers. Warren Nevad, of UT's Municipal Technical Advisory Service, offered his organization's support for the process. Nevad said MTAS could accept the applications and reduce the number of applicants to a more manageable number for the council to review. Nevad said the whole process can take 120 to 180 days.

Mayor Pro Tem Boyd Wyatt said he would rather have the council go over all the applications and make the cut selections. The city received some 120 applications the last time they went through this process.

Both Wyatt and Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III praised the work of Turner and said he was doing an excellent job.

While there were no fireworks at the April council meeting, fireworks were discussed. The council approved hiring Pyro Shows to put on fireworks for the annual July Fourth celebration at the Crossville Centennial Park. The problem that came up was the bids were informal unsealed bids solicited by the parks and recreation department.

City Attorney Ken Chadwell said bids should have been received as sealed bids. Chadwell suggested in the future the city send out a request for proposals that would give the budget amount for fireworks and ask for sealed bids on what each company would provide for that amount. The council directed that bid process be used in the future.

The council approved salary changes for three city employees including two in the city street department. Street Superintendent Joe Miller sought the 3 percent raise for two of his employees, Bill Seicks and Danny Kirk. The council also approved a raise for Sandy Gruber, who is handling human resources for the city as well as being the city manager's secretary.

Turner explained Gruber was elevated two levels in the city's salary scale because of her expanded responsibilities last year. She should have received a 20-percent raise at the time but the increase was planned to be phased in in steps.

The council approved the increases for all three employees.

The council also approved the placement of signs to reserve two parking spaces behind the Cumberland County Courthouse for use by veterans visiting the veterans' service office. The suggestion came from Joe Miller who received praise for his suggestion.

A Martin Elementary sixth grader was recognized by the city as the April student of the month. Casey Ellison represented the character trait of citizenship and was described by her teacher as “a leader and a fine example for the trait of citizenship in many areas.”

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