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Law allows grieving family to wonder about son’s reported suicide

By   /   July 3, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — For two years, Tennessee law allowed Oak Ridge School District officials to hide an audit, one that might have provided answers as to why a former school district official reportedly committed suicide.

Tennesseans inquisitive about how government entities spend or abuse taxpayer money may usually do so by reading the publicly available audits on the state Comptroller website.

But this was not the case with the audit involving Alex Heitman, who, as reported, died three years ago.

“The report was an agreed-upon procedures audit between the school board and the private accounting firm,” Comptroller spokesman Blake Fontenay told Tennessee Watchdog on Wednesday. “As these reports are done at the request of the local government, the Comptroller’s office does not publish them.”

MYSTERY: The death of Alex Heitman in Tennessee was quickly ruled a suicide.

The office, Fontenay added, publishes local government annual financial and investigative reports when staff writes them, which did not happen here.

As reported, the recently released audit portrayed Heitman, the school system’s former director of business services, as someone who stole school money for his graduate school expenses.

But the audit’s findings weren’t conclusive enough to explain why Heitman, who had once uncovered other massive theft from the school district a few months before, would want to kill himself, according to his parents, Don and Annette.

They told Tennessee Watchdog this week they can’t imagine how the audit remained sealed for so long.

In an email, Fontenay said local government officials do not have to release audits that contain allegations of unlawful conduct, waste, fraud and abuse in these matters.

Comptroller’s attorneys must review public records requests for these audits before government officials may release them, Fontenay said, adding government officials are under no obligation to release these records after a certain timeframe.

The audit was not done in conjunction with the Comptroller’s office,” Fontenay said, although the office involved itself in at least one capacity.

“The agreed upon-procedures audit contract between the board of education and the accounting firm required the Comptroller’s review and approval as to form and propriety.”

The Comptroller’s office was not involved in the preparation or production of the private accounting firm’s report and only received a copy of the final report, Fontenay said.

The copy of the final report was used by the Comptroller’s office in connection with an investigation and is therefore confidential as a working paper under state law, he added.

As previously reported, Don and Annette Heitman have pleaded with school district officials for information since 2011.

Oak Ridge School Superintendent Bruce Borchers failed to return two requests for comment this week.

Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected] or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Chris formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.