Cookeville City Manager James Mills said the recent events involving a firefighter pay scam should not reflect on the entire fire department.
In a release by the city Friday afternoon, Mills said an internal investigation had been launched prior to the Tennessee Comptroller Office’s investigation. Retired Cookeville Fire Captain Marvin Montgomery and current Captain Shawn Roberson face charges of payroll double dipping with the fire department and a state training center.
The State of Tennessee Comptroller’s Office recently released an Investigative Report regarding alleged malfeasance within the Cookeville Fire Department during the period of January 2017 through February 2019. The City of Cookeville and Cookeville City Council believe it is imperative to communicate to the community and its citizens that the report and findings of the investigation are not taken lightly. The City is keenly aware of its obligations for the fiscal responsibility of the services provided to our citizens.
The City first became aware of the alleged misuse of time by a Fire Department employee in March of 2019. Upon receipt of the anonymous allegations, an internal investigation was initiated. Deficiencies and weaknesses with the time keeping procedures utilized by the Fire Department were identified and measures to correct these issues were put into effect. Numerous records and management programs were reviewed. This ultimately resulted in the purchase and implementation of a new time keeping system. In addition, departmental protocols for the approval of payroll submission, vacation and sick leave were reviewed and amended.
The internal investigation also revealed that a now former Fire Department employee appeared to have been paid by the City while also being paid by the Tennessee Fire Academy during the previous 12 months. In late March of 2019, the City reported the findings of the internal investigation to the Comptroller’s Office. The City was subsequently instructed to cease its investigation and informed that the Comptroller was launching its own investigation. The City and the Fire Department fully cooperated with the Comptroller’s ensuing investigation, which took more than two years to complete.
Over the past two years, further steps have been implemented in the Fire Department with the goal of providing greater accountability. Of most significance is the preparation of Standard Operating Procedures particular for the Fire Department that provide specific guidelines for code of conduct and responsibilities for employees in the Department. Similar orders have been in effect at the Cookeville Police Department for many years. Additional measures for further improvements in the Fire Department are currently being evaluated.
While the results of the Comptroller’s investigation do not reflect positively on the Fire Department, we want to stress and assure the citizens of Cookeville that our Fire Department remains as one of the best in the State of Tennessee. The men and women of the Cookeville Fire Department are hardworking, caring fire fighters committed to the protection of life and property within our City. The Department’s response to the March 2020 tornado is a testament to their dedication to our community.
As we move forward, the City will continue to endeavor to ensure accountability of all our employees while providing quality services to the citizens of our great City.