Audit criticizes Chattanooga library for excessive travel payments, possible employee fraud

Chattanooga City Auditor Stan Sewell has issued a report criticizing Public Library Director Corinne Hill for excess reimbursements for worldwide travel and saying that her top two employees have been reported to the state for suspected fraud, according to the Times-Free Press.

Assistant Library Director Nate Hill and System Administrator Meg Backus were reported to the state comptroller’s office after auditors found they took multiple paid speaking and consultant jobs on library time. The total excess reimbursements that Corinne Hill and her staffers received and the amount of mismanaged funds are estimated in the auditor findings at nearly $3,000.

Sewell also found that the library lacks substantive travel policies and procedures and that the library’s governing board — formed in 2011 when the library came fully under city control — lacks checks and balances and doesn’t have any bylaws on the books.

Library board Chairman James Kennedy said Thursday the board will take each allegation seriously. At next Friday’s meeting, he said, members will go line by line through the findings to see what actions if any, need to be taken. But he said the audit findings shouldn’t take away from all that Corinne Hill has accomplished in her two years in Chattanooga.

“We will get to the bottom of it and get it right without any hesitation. Corinne is right there with us. She’s world class,” he said.

Since Chattanooga hired Corinne Hill in 2012 for $120,000 — one of the top 10 salaries among city employees — she has made sweeping changes to the downtown library that include revamping the forgotten fourth floor into a creative lab with 3-D printers and program tutorials. She introduced children’s reading programs and teen activities and her model has been copied in libraries across the country, earning her the 2014 national Librarian of the Year award.

Corinne Hill declined to comment Thursday, referring questions to the board. But in the past she has credited her success to support from inside and outside the library and said her staff nominated her for the national award.

However, Sewell said in his report that he launched the investigation after several library employees reported concerns of wasteful activity and abuse to the city’s hotline.