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Homeland security funds probed
Jan 07, 2005 12:00 am
Government leaders charged with doling out federal homeland security money in Middle Tennessee are preparing to demand more accountability about how the dollars have been spent.
Lebanon Mayor Don Fox and his peers in other Middle Tennessee counties making up a regional homeland security executive committee are asking questions about the use of federal Department of Homeland Security dollars by area governments and emergency agencies.
The State of Tennessee is divided into 11 Homeland Security Districts with each consisting of multi-county teams to oversee the use of federal homeland security grants, which were first funded in 2003. The fifth district includes representatives from Wilson, Davidson, Sumner and Williamson Counties.
As Wilson County's delegate to the fifth district's executive committee, Fox is required to convey the county's emergency preparedness needs to state officials.
Facing a tight deadline to allocate the funding in June 2003, Fox and other local government executives said they felt "kind of rushed" in determining how the federal monies would be divided between each of the four member counties.
"We had a deadline of about a week-and-a-half to make these decisions," Sumner County Mayor and executive committee member Hank Thompson said. " … A lot of things went awful quick, and some things we'd probably do a little different, but that was a deadline. We agreed that, whatever we did, we didn't want to do that again in the next go-round."
Now, with the deadline for the allocation of 2005 Homeland Security grants fast approaching, Thompson said the executive committee has yet to receive information from its task force – largely made up of emergency management officials from across the district – regarding the needs for the coming year.
"We don't want to be rush, rush again. We've got to have some accountability here. Where did the money go, and what is the inventory of what we've got? We didn't feel like there had been good communication between the executive committee and the task force," Thompson said.
"I think all of us want the best for the region, and we want ample time with which to be able to do that. You need time to study it. You need time to procure the grants. You need time to authorize the process," committee member and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson added.
In addition to working toward dispersing 2005 grant monies in a timely manner, Fox explained executive committee members are also striving to ensure funds spent from previous federal homeland security grants will "withstand scrutiny."
According to Gov. Phil Bredesen's outline for homeland security funds, the grants are apportioned for specific purposes and distribution. Fox said, however, the fifth district executive committee currently receives no information as to how the funds are spent.
"We're trying to regroup and get this thing properly organized with a feedback to the executive committee so that not only will we be approving a lump sum, we'll be approving more in detail what the money will be expended for," Fox said. "In the future, we're going to need to see – prior to any expenditures – what the money is being designated for … I have no intention of being a part of loose financial management."
Two weeks ago, in the executive committee's most recent meeting, Fox said the panel began taking steps to "start firming some of this up" by questioning area homeland security officials.
Fox has also requested an item requiring that each county provide information regarding purchases made and pending expenditures be placed on the committee's Jan. 26 agenda.
"That's going to put our fingers right on the grant enough that we'll be better able to approve the next grant," he said. "The executive committee will know how that money is being spent, and there will be some accountability to it … and these deadlines need to be given a little less emphasis than what they have."
The next deadline facing the fifth district executive committee relates to a September district-wide emergency response exercise, Fox added.
"We're trying to properly equip all of the different governmental entities and plan for the process as far as response is concerned," he said.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at email@example.com.