By Clint Confehr
Senior Staff Writer
Under a cloud of mystery, given unanswered questions, Petersburg's town recorder quit without an explanation last week.
Dawn Forlines was placed on paid leave Aug. 29 as a new auditor was reviewing city accounts, Mayor James Owen said. On Nov. 9, she was given another warning on how certain forms were to be completed.
Forlines could have returned to work, Owen indicated during a telephone interview this week. However, after she and Owen spoke at Town Hall that Wednesday last week, she left and returned in 10-15 minutes with her letter of resignation.
The mayor was just "Giving her a warning that this (different, or out of order procedure) does not ... happen any more, and I guess she took it - I don't know," Owen said, his voice trailing off.
"She came (back) in saying, 'I guess this is what you're waiting for,'" the mayor said, quoting the former recorder when she handed him her resignation letter. "I don't know that she's got another job."
Forlines' phone number in the Petersburg directory is "disconnected or no longer in service," according to a recorded message. Owen said she and her husband have apparently changed cell numbers.
Her husband, Eugene Forlines was an unsuccessful candidate for alderman in the election that put Marshall County Sheriff's Deputy Tony Nichols on the town board five years ago. In October 2008, Nichols allegedly showed a racy digital image of Sarah Palin on his cell phone screen. Accusations were made. Nichols was ousted, but later returned to the board as a result of federal court action.
Petersburg has been a recipient of federal funding in recent years. New water meters have been installed as a result of one grant administered by the South Central Tennessee Community development District in Columbia. A housing renovation grant was recently awarded as administered by Nelson Thornton P.C. of Jackson, Tenn.
Tennessee municipalities are audited annually and almost all the time the auditor is hired by the local government unless there's a special audit conducted by a division of the State Comptroller's Office.
In August, the town hired a different auditing firm. The new and old firms are based in Fayetteville and the new auditor, a certified public accountant with Putman & Hancock, has been checking Town Hall records since late August.
"He found some mistakes and until we get it straightened out, it's better that she (Forlines) be on paid administrative leave," Owen said in a September report here. "That's their normal practice... The person who is involved is sent home. That way they can't change anything..."
No allegations have been made and attempts to reach Forlines have been unsuccessful.
"The audit is still gong on," the mayor said Tuesday, maintaining his position that the nature of the audit, its findings, or virtually anything about the records review would not be discussed until the work was done.
Then, Nov. 9, Owen "called her in to talk about some things that came to my attention," the mayor said.
The spoke "briefly for a few minutes," he said.
Asked what he told her, Owen replied, "Nothing much, other than I'd have to give her a warning on some things she did - some paperwork mistakes, some things we talked about in the past..."
The reason for their discussion was "so that when she came back (to work) we'd have an understanding that this is the way it's going to be done," Owen said of the town's accounting procedures and how they should have been done and how they'd have to be done in the future.
"We'd done talked to them about that," the mayor said. "This is the way it had to be done and it wasn't being done that way."
Forlines left and returned, delivering a letter "saying she was resigning as town recorder for Petersburg... effective immediately," Owen said.
The issues were "paperwork that auditors caught; forms that had to be filled out... She was told last time... (They were) just mistakes the auditors are gigging us on...
"The audit we had to do, cost a little more, it did because of the detail [and]
the computers we had were not what they should be. It's computer programs. It just cost us more."
Forlines "was pretty mad at me," Owen said. "I thought she was a friend, but you can't let things go because I've got to answer to the people."