Thousands in anti-smoking dollars paid for movies and gift cards

Thousands in anti-smoking dollars paid for movies and gift cards

The Loudon County Health Department may have misspent more than $8,000 intended to keep teens and pre-teens off tobacco, Tennessee Comptrollers said in an audit report, released Tuesday.

County officials got $106,689 from the Tennessee Department of Health through the state’s Tobacco Settlement Initiative of 2014, said department spokesman Bill Christian.

County Mayor Rollen Bradshaw said county officials used that money to entice local kids to parties. The officials then delivered sermons about the evils of smoking.

“We spent that money on movie cards, Walmart gift cards, door prizes and other stuff at these events” Bradshaw said.

Rollen Bradshaw (photo courtesy of Facebook)

Rollen Bradshaw (photo courtesy of Facebook)

But, according to auditors, the director of the county’s health department paid with more than $8,000 in gift cards.

“The director had no documentation to support who received the cards, the amount of each card, or how the recipients used each card,” said Comptrollers, suggesting some of the money was spent on things county officials weren’t supposed to buy.

“In addition, based on information obtained from the retailer from which the department purchased the cards, some of the cards appeared to have been exchanged for cash.”

Bradshaw said county officials can no longer buy gift cards for county business.

Bradshaw said he didn’t know how much money the county received from the 2014 settlement. The Tennessee Department of Health did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

Comptrollers said they sent the audit to Ninth Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson for his review. Attempts to reach Johnson’s office for comment were unsuccessful.

According to BusinessClarksville.com, each county in Tennessee received funding for three years to reduce the burden of tobacco use in the state.

In exchange, all counties were to initiate projects addressing smoking during pregnancy, reducing a child’s exposure to second-hand smoke, and preventing adolescent tobacco use.

When asked, Bradshaw said he couldn’t say for sure whether the programs kept anyone from smoking.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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