Down The Slippery Slope

Lenoir City Council took it's first step down a slippery slope at Monday's council meeting. With hardly a grunt, council voted unanimously to violate their own City Charter, the very document that establishes the laws that have governed the city for more than a hundred years.

Ever since being elected as city judge, Terry Vann has constantly worked at taking control of the city treasurer's office. Monday night, he took a big step forward in the take over. Misrepresenting a state law, Vann was able to convince council that they had the power to override the city charter to appoint the city court clerk as recommended by Vann when clearly the charter plainly states that:

1. Compensation, specific requirements, powers and duties of office.
2. Shall keep minutes.
3. Shall be the custodian of public records, bonds, etc.
4. Shall provide and certify copies of records, papers, etc.
5. Shall generally supervise and keep records of fiscal affairs.
6. Shall be the treasurer.
7. Shall serve as city court clerk. The Recorder/Treasurer shall be the Clerk of the City Court.
8. Appointment of recorder pro tempore.

It's not complicated. In fact it's painfully simple. The CITY RECORDER Shall serve as city court clerk. The Recorder/Treasurer shall be the Clerk of the City Court. Yet some how Judge Vann was able to convince council that he had found an old law that superseded the city charter.

What was so obviously missing from the discussion was any mention of an opinion from MTAS. MTAS, The Municipal Technical Advisory Service is a state organization that gives legal and technical advice to cities across the state. Lenoir City doesn't make a move without getting an opinion from MTAS. Strangely, no mention was made of an MTAS opinion pertaining to the council's actions. That's because MTAS disagreed with what the city did.

This council has taken a step unprecedented in the city's history, that is to rewrite the city charter on their own accord.

Now that Judge Vann has figured out how easy it is to deceive the council, he might want to find another magic law that would allow him to appoint the city council and mayor.

Lenoir City Council approves letting judge name court clerk

Jackson appointed to job; ordinance defies charter, takes choice from voters

LENOIR CITY - The Lenoir City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to allow a city judge to appoint the city court clerk.

Jennifer Jackson, an assistant clerk at city hall, was unanimously approved by the council as the new clerk of courts.

The vote - based on an ordinance drafted by city Judge Terry Vann - takes the position of court clerk out of the hands of the voters for the first time in the 100-year history of Lenoir City.

The ordinance also conflicts with the city charter, drafted in 1908, which states that the duties of court clerk are the responsibility of the city treasurer/recorder. The city charter also states that the treasurer/recorder position is elected.

According to Vann, the Municipal Court Reform Act of 2004 authorizes the city judge to appoint the clerk of courts.

The reform act was designed to streamline municipal courts and create more consistency across the various municipalities, Vann explained.

Councilman Douglas "Buddy" Hines asked for clarification as to whether the new ordinance would override the city charter and was assured by Mayor Matt Brookshire that the ordinance, based on the Municipal Court Reform Act, did indeed hold precedence.

Brookshire said he was confident the ordinance overriding the charter was legal.

"I take my recommendation from the judge and the city attorney," Brookshire said.

The duties of treasurer/recorder/clerk have been assigned to Maggie Hunt since the retirement of former longtime treasurer/recorder/clerk Debbie Cook in April of 2007.

In August, Lenoir City voters will get to vote on a change to the charter that would allow the city council to decide who will hold the position of treasurer/recorder.

Should the voters decide that the treasurer position remain an elected office, it could throw a monkey wrench into the plans to keep the clerk position appointed.

City attorney Shannon Littleton acknowledged the potential for conflict if a newly elected treasurer/recorder should claim the duties of the court clerk, per the city charter.

Under such a scenario, the precedence of the Municipal Court Reform Act over the city charter might face a legal challenge. Littleton said he has received several legal opinions that support the judge's ordinance.

Judge Vann explained the need to have an appointed person in the job to maintain continuity in the position. The judge has also expressed concern about the collection of revenue owed the city.