PETERSBURG -- The Board of Mayor and Aldermen hired a new auditor and as he proceeded with his work late last month town leaders agreed that the town recorder should be placed on administrative leave until the audit is complete, the mayor said Thursday.
Town Recorder Dawn Forlines was placed on paid leave on Aug. 29, Mayor James Owen said, explaining the decision to get a new auditor was because the previous auditor "went up on price and the one we got was considerably lower. With the economy the way it is, you've got to do what you can to save money."
Tennessee municipalities and counties are audited annually and almost all the time the auditor is hired by the local government unless there's a special audit conducted by one of two divisions of the State Comptroller's Office. Both new and old auditing firms for the town on the Marshall and Lincoln counties' line are based in Fayetteville.
"We've got a new auditor who came in," Owen said, "and he found some mistakes and until we get it straightened out, it's better that she (Forlines) be on paid administrative leave...
"That's their normal practice," the mayor continued. "The person who is involved is sent home. That way they can't change anything...
"There are some mistakes and some other things, but they've told us not to say anything until they get done with the audit," Owen said.
"We're going to have to go through the paper work to see what was done. There are a bunch of unanswered questions," the mayor said.
However, the auditor "has found everything, and some stuff, and he's just looking for answers," Owen said. "Being a new auditor, they go through everything."
The mayor was asked directly: Could this lead to criminal charges?
"Well, I'm not at liberty to say until the audit is done," Owen replied. "We don't know anything yet. If they do find something, I guess it could be."
Owen is a criminal investigator for the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department and was clear on another point, individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Furthermore, he emphasized, "When you've got one person doing 1,000 things, you're going to have mistakes."
The audit started about two weeks ago and Owen hopes it will be complete next week.
"I hate paying somebody to do nothing," he said.
The audit has, however, caused some expenses.
"We've paid out some extra for the auditor, but it's still what we paid the other auditor," the mayor said.
Meanwhile, "The town is in the black," Owen said.