Feud sparks resignation, allegations By Hugh G. Willett
March 23, 2007

A city hall feud between a judge and the city recorder-treasurer in Lenior City led to the sudden resignation of the recorder-treasurer amid allegations of how the judge was using public money.

Debbie Cook, a 30-year veteran of the city's Recorder-Treasurer office, resigned her position as recorder, treasurer and city court clerk for Lenoir City, citing "malice and discontent" at city hall.

Cook's resignation comes in the wake of a dispute with Judge Terry Vann regarding her job performance. Vann charged at a city council meeting in February that the city is owed $347,000 in unpaid parking fines and other debts that have not been collected.

Cook has denied the claim and disputed the figures produced by Vann, describing the judge's call for her resignation as retaliation for her questioning his transfer of funds to a private organization.

"He's mad because I caught him sending funds to an outside organization," Cook said Friday. "He wants control of the clerk's office."

Vann first began to criticize her performance after she questioned the propriety of a non-profit organization known as "Friends of Law Enforcement," Cook said.

Vann set up the organization and operated it without oversight, transferring revenue from traffic fines into the fund in exchange for dismissing the offenses, Cook said.

The state comptroller's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation looked into the activities of "Friends of Law Enforcement" but took no action, Cook said.

Shortly after the investigation, the judge abandoned the organization and began to question publicly whether Cook was performing her job correctly, citing uncollected revenue and requesting that she resign her position.

Attempts to contact Vann by phone Friday for a response were unsuccessful.

Since the dispute, the atmosphere in city hall has become oppressive, the recorder-treasurer said. After 30 years of public service, Cook wrote that she fears for her health if she continues in her position.

"I was elected as the Recorder-Treasurer for my honesty and integrity and that sort of thing is not popular inside the walls of your building," she said in her letter.

"I do not deserve nor will I continue to be subjected to the uninvited cruelty, disrespect, and discourtesy shown to me by some of the city's elected officials, public officials, and employees."

The feud between Vann and Cook has sparked debate about the control of the office of treasurer and outrage among some citizens, including former Loudon county Commissioner Van Shaver, who is a critic of Vann.

Shaver said he has obtained a Notice of Federal Tax Lien filed against Vann in the amount of more than $170,000. According to documents registered with the Loudon County Register of Deeds, the lien was filed on January 17th, 2007.

"The judge who is so concerned about collecting revenue for the city doesn't seem as concerned about paying his own taxes, " Shaver said.

Cook, who has been elected to the position of Treasurer three times, said in the letter her resignation is effective Monday. She was scheduled to serve her four-year term until November 2008. The Lenoir City Council is expected to appoint an interim Treasurer to the $62,000 a year position when it meets Monday night.

More details as they develop online and in Saturday's News Sentinel.