Nonprofit Mississippi River group dissolves after audit questions arise

A nonprofit group established protect and promote the Mississippi River in the stretch along Tennessee’s border has ceased operations after state auditors alleged improper bidding procedures in the design and construction of a $2 million visitors center, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The board of directors of the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee voted to dissolve because the Tennessee Department of Transportation terminated a contract with the group and quit paying invoices, said Diana Threadgill, president and executive director. “We just ran out of money,” she said.

TDOT took the action in the wake of an internal audit and a report by the state Comptroller of the Treasury on the bidding process used by MRCT in building an interpretive visitors center at Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tiptonville. The audits were prompted by a complaint. (Bids were not solicited and one contract went to a person with an possible conflict of interest.)

…The comptroller’s report questioned $466,262 in costs paid out for the project.

In a letter sent to Threadgill in November, TDOT Commissioner John C. Schroer gave notice that the department would be terminating the grant contract with MRCT effective last Dec. 2. He said that in addition to the Comptroller of the Treasury’s audit, the contract is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.

TDOT reserves the right to pursue all remedies allowed under the grant contract, Schroer wrote, “including, but not limited to, the right to seek repayment of unallowable costs.”

As a result of TDOT’s decision to stop paying invoices, MRCT was forced to halt construction on the visitors center, Threadgill said.

Note: The three-page preliminary audit report starts on page 437 of the Comptroller’s Fiscal Year 2016 Single Audit Report and includes a note that the reported finding only deals with the Department of Transportation’s end of things and “other work at the contractor level is ongoing.”

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