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Foster speaks out on Living the Dream
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A Nashville television news investigation has raised accusations of excessive spending at the Upper Cumberland Development District on the “Living the Dream” project, as well as allegations of agency money being used for gifts, and a political fundraiser being financed on the UCDD tab.Minutes of a UCDD board meeting were apparently improperly modified as well.Not only are auditors from the state scheduled to investigate, but the UCDD board has hired the Nashville law firm of Walker, Tipps, and Malone, PLC to look into the claims, and the board has called an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the matter.State Representative Mark Pody has also called for a panel of legislators from the Upper Cumberland area to investigate the situation.At the heart of the debate is UCDD Executive Director Wendy Askins.Askins, who apparently lives on the grounds of the Living the Dream property rent-free, is facing questions about misappropriation of funds, checks she wrote to herself or cash, and receipts for the purchase of birthday gifts, bottles of wine and liquor, and a political fundraiser that she reportedly charged largely to the UCDD account.The million-dollar “Living the Dream” development, a facility on an 11-acre property in rural Putnam County, was intended to become a retirement home for needy seniors.According to the minutes of a UCDD board meeting at the time the property was purchased, it was a foreclosure property purchased at auction specifically for the purpose of developing the retirement facility. The main house was already constructed at the time of purchase, as was a horse barn and fencing.Apartments for the elderly residents were built behind the main house after the project began.The main house was apparently intended to be a common area shared by the residents, but Askins has said that she moved in to help get the project off the ground since the facility only had a few occupants and there was not enough cash flow to hire 24-hour staff.The home is designed to accommodate 20 residents when filled, and the rent is income-based, ranging from $500 to $2,000 monthly.As chairman of the UCDD, DeKalb County Mayor Mike Foster also finds himself embroiled in the controversy.Foster met with the Review and WJLE Friday morning to discuss the subject.Although Foster could not comment in detail because of the pending investigation, he did say that he feels some of the spending at the facility might be considered "lavish," but that the UCDD board did not oversee the day-to-day operations of “Living the Dream.”"I do believe there has been some lavish spending,” Foster said, “but I'm on the committee that has been appointed to investigate this and until we have more details, I don't think we need to point the finger at anybody.”Foster also said that the constraints of the investigation have led to embarrassing situations with the media.“Some of my statements look kind of goofy because we were told (by attorneys) immediately before doing the interview (with NewsChannel 5) that we should not make any negative or even positive comments about anyone in particular or any behavior they might have had until the investigation is over,” Foster said.The investigation is underway, and is coming from more than one direction.“We've got two sets of accountants looking at it,” Foster said. “The comptroller is looking at it and the attorneys are looking at it.”Foster said that even though “Living the Dream” is a UCDD project, a separate board oversees its day-to-day operation, and that until recently, he knew very few little about the details of the facility.“Living the Dream” is a separate corporation, a 501C3 that was set up to build housing for elderly and disabled people,” Foster shared.

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