State Park audit still unresolved

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is reviewing "potential issues" with regard to activities at Henry Horton State Park, but there have been no dismissals, TDEC's spokeswoman said this week.

"We are currently conducting a disciplinary review of some potential issues there, but no employee has left or has been asked to leave," spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said, promising to share the department's information when that review is completed.

"This review process began as a result of a comptroller's audit, along with TDEC's own follow-up audit," Lockhart said.

The audit was delivered two years ago. It revealed a relatively high incidence of opportunities to make goods and services available at no charge through what would appear to be misuse of sale transaction procedures.

Asked when the department's disciplinary review might be completed and available, the TDEC spokeswoman replied, "We can't speculate on a time frame or the outcome of the review."

Lockhart has been asked about volunteers and other aspects of golf course operations.

"We rely on our many volunteers for their ongoing work to help improve our state parks," Lockhart said. "Volunteers who've donated their time and efforts for the benefit of one of our golf courses have (played), and do play, for free, based on the number of hours they have worked. This is done in all of our state parks and volunteers are given free course time in lieu of wages."

The arrangement does not include use of golf carts, she said.

The Tribune has, on occasion, received information from subscribers who have complained and made allegations about the park's golf course.

"The complaints ... have nothing to do with this disciplinary review," said Lockhart who encouraged people with complaints or information about alleged misdeeds to "contact us directly so we can address any issues."

On July 29, 2008, John Morgan, then comptroller of the state treasury, delivered an audit by Arthur A. Hayes Jr., director of state audit, to TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke, the governor, and state lawmakers.

The 54-page report addresses issues at other state parks and indicated that some employees were using the cash drawer instead of using the no-sale button on a cash register, or computer-assisted sales desk.

That weakness in accounting was revealed statistically as happening, under test conditions, approximately:

* 86 percent of the time at Henry Horton State Park;

* 52 percent of the time at Montgomery Bell State Park;

* 42 percent of the time at Fall Creek Falls Park;

* 37 percent of the time at Natchez Trace; and,

* 32 percent of the time at Pickwick Landing.

Reasons for voiding transaction included "changed mind" and "dropped card."

Areas examined included policies and their implementation regarding free or reduced meals at Henry Horton State Park, and meals provided to ineligible individuals - those who are not employees of the park, the two-year-old audit states.

"For 76 of 281 free meals tested (27 percent) the employee was not on duty two hours before and two hours after receiving a free meal," the audit states.

Auditors pointed to the risks of theft of funds from a lack of internal controls over revenue for inns and cabins, golf courses, gift shops and restaurants.

TDEC also didn't have adequate controls over inventory at gift shops at the state park, the report states.

At HHSP transactions that were voided were not properly documented, the audit said. The audit includes the observation that in July 2006 there was a revision of administrative policies to deal with issues from "no-sale" transactions.

As with all state audits, the individuals who supervise the situations that were examined were offered an opportunity to comment.

In response to the implication of unauthorized or unnecessary access to the park's Hospitality Management (accounting) System and what would appear to be an inappropriate activity that might allow someone to cover up a theft, the auditors recommended proper use of the system and management agreed.