Control of city court clerk at issue in Lenoir City

Council debates change

LENOIR CITY - The Lenoir City Council is moving to restore control of the city court clerk's office to treasurer-recorder Bobby Johnson Jr., after a judge took charge of the work last year.

"I told people if I got elected that I would take it back," Johnson said.

Johnson, elected in November, requested that the council restore management of the clerk's position to his office. Almost a year ago, the council passed an ordinance at odds with the town charter that allowed city Judge Terry Vann to control the position.

"I think we did the right thing at the time," Councilman Eddie Simpson said. "Now where do we go?"

Simpson explained that at the time the ordinance was passed, Maggie Hunt, who took over as treasurer-recorder after the retirement of long-time treasurer-recorder-clerk Debbie Cook, did not want clerk responsibilities.

Johnson told the council he had collected opinions from legal resources including the Municipal Technical Advisory Service and the state Attorney General's office that confirm his claim to the office of clerk as supported by the city charter.

A referendum in August showed voters want the position of court clerk to be elected, per the charter, Johnson said.

"The people told me they wanted me to ask for it back," he said.

City Administrator Dale Hurst said he is most concerned about the office continuing to run smoothly.

Johnson said he has no plans to change the system now in place. He said he only wants to make sure that if his office is held responsible for the court clerk's bottom line, he oversees the office.

The best way to return the power to the treasurer-reorder's office would be to draft an ordinance that repeals the previous ordinance and returns the clerk of court's responsibility, per the original charter, city attorney Shannon Littleton said.

"I knew this day would come eventually," Littleton said.

Councilman Tony Aikens suggested the possibility that a Chancery Court judge could make the decision. Aikens also objected to a motion by Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. to draft an ordinance that would dissolve the previous ordinance.

"With all due respect, I'd like to point out that I think it is a direct conflict of interest to make a motion in regards to your son's office," Aikens said.

A motion by Councilman Simpson directing the town attorney to draw up a new ordinance passed unanimously on April 27. The council votes on the new ordinance this month.