Tennessee comptroller declines to audit Gov. Bill Lee

Tennessee comptroller declines to audit Gov. Bill Lee

Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower is declining to audit the Governor’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, despite questions over how the office manages its first-ever $1.2 million allocation of taxpayer funds. 

Earlier this month, House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, called for an audit of the office and its associated nonprofit organization after The Tennessean reported on a lack of detail for how the office plans to spend its first-ever direct allocation of taxpayer money.

In a letter sent last week, Mumpower said that an audit of the office would be “premature.” 

“The public portion of the funding was appropriated earlier this year and would not have been available for spending until July 1, 2023,” Mumpower wrote. “As such, I am of the opinion that a full audit at this time would be premature and would not yet yield enough data to form comprehensive, reliable conclusions.” 

But Mumpower indicated that an audit may be undertaken in the future. 

“I can assure you the Office will be contemplated in the auditor’s risk assessments and will be considered for review in the next scheduled audit or after an adequate portion of the funding has been utilized,” he wrote. 

On the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Lee proposed creating the office as a self-funded entity to help connect government agencies with nonprofits that can fill the gaps in service. It was created in 2019 as a government office that works in tandem with a nonprofit foundation. Despite First Amendment objections from Democrats, the legislature allocated taxpayer funds to the office for the first time this spring: a budget of $1.2 million. 

Members of the nonprofit’s board of directors have direct authority over how the taxpayer money allocated to the office is spent. The board is appointed by the governor, by law, and includes several of Lee’s political allies. 

The plan for the $1.2 million the office received this year is to hire more staff. Currently, Executive Director Lance Villio, whom Lee appointed in September, and his assistant are the office’s only employees. 

Villio, who is budgeted a salary of $165,000 per year, plus a $1,000 monthly car allowance, says the $1.2 million will support hiring five new core staff members and six regional liaisons. But the office previously supported a staff of six with through private fundraising of nearly $500,000. No job postings have yet been advertised for the new positions.

Meanwhile, several aspects of the office’s operations have fallen by the wayside: none of the office’s social media accounts have been active since December 2022, or in one case, 2021, and the office’s website, linked on its social media accounts and email signatures, currently redirects to a Malaysian lottery website. 

Reach reporter Vivian Jones atvjones@tennessean.com or on X and Threads at @Vivian_E_Jones.