Cook vs Vann, The Final Analysis
|On February 12th, Lenoir City's city court judge,
Terry Vann, addressed the city
council about a matter he said concerned him. Citing a report he
acquired from the clerk's office, he advised the council that over a
nearly ten year period, 1997-2007, there were more than three hundred
thousand dollars in fines and court costs outstanding and uncollected.
Judge Vann's explanation to council for the high, uncollected fines and
court costs was due to City Treasurer/Recorder/Court Clerk, Debbie
Cook's negligence and called for Ms. Cook's resignation as city court
clerk. Vann told the council if Ms. Cook would resign, they [council]
"could appoint someone as clerk of that court to work under his (Vann's)
direction." Vann also went on to tell the council that he "had
discussed this with Dale (Hurst City Administrator) and looked for
alternatives to get me (Vann) involved and let me (Vann)
take charge of this." The judge also stated that the uncollected
money represented 2500 unattended cases. Ms. Cook vigorously denied
Judge Vann's accusations. Judge Vann's charges of negligence,
mismanagement and failure to perform her duties is a serious charge and
if true should demand action from council to address the matter.
close study of the now infamous 167 page report reveals a number of
facts relevant to Judge Vann's charges. The report is laid out as a nine
column report. Column headings are Name, Docket #, Ticket Number,
Disposition, Fine, Court Cost, Other Costs, Cash Paid, Balance. The key
column in the report that would be most important to the Judge's charges
would be "Disposition." This column represents the outcome of the case.
There are 17 different dispositions.
This equals 2248 cases. However only 1576 individuals.
The first obvious fact is that every case has been addressed by the clerk's office. In fact according to officers in the clerks office, many of the reported cases should have been eliminated from the report and the outstanding balances zeroed out. The bottom line is, the report cited by Judge Vann is an out dated, seldom used report that has not been kept current for various reasons. All tickets, their balances and their dispositions are entered and kept current in a different program and the outstanding balances kept current by staff. A true discovery of the outstanding fines and fees would require a different approach. However the total amount of outstanding fines and fees if far, far less than what has been reported by the Judge. Every single case has been dutifully handled by the clerk's office and are in various states of disposition.
The Final Analysis
Judge Vann chose to make an unprovoked, unannounced attack in a public forum on Ms. Cook's credibility using flawed, incredible information. The judge admitted that he had discussed the situation with City Administrator, Dale Hurst but not Ms. Cook. The judge stated that he had talked with MTAS (Municipal Technical Assistance Service) which may be true. However the opinion rendered by CTAS made it clear that Ms. Cook as an elected official has complete control and authority over her office.
None of Judge Vann's charges can be found to be true or credible. The clerk's office has taken all steps legally available to them to make collection of the outstanding debts. Short of kicking down doors and rifling debtors sock drawers, the clerks office has done all they can to collect the outstanding debts.
Our government is devised to have certain checks and balances as in the three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial each having certain oversight over the other. Anyone operating without oversight whether real or perceived is a potential problem. Judge Vann gave his reason for concern of the outstanding money to be in the interest of the city. If this is true, the judge would have been well served to have checked his facts before he spoke. If a collection agency is what the council wishes to pursue, then let them move the process forward.
The judge's charge of negligence by Ms. Cook are shown to be wholly unfounded and should be considered as professional slander of a public official. The burden of proof is on the accuser. Let the evidence bare the facts.