Johnson in charge of Lenoir City clerk's office

LENOIR CITY - Lenoir City Treasurer-Recorder Bobby Johnson Jr. is once again in charge of the city court clerk's office.

In an unusual chain of events Monday, the sitting five members of the Lenoir City Council voted to return the control of the clerk's office to Johnson after an executive session was called following completion of the meeting's agenda.

"I wasn't expecting it by any means," Johnson said. "It wasn't even on the agenda."

Following the retirement of the previous court clerk in April 2007, the City Council appointed a clerk and placed control of the clerk's office under Judge Terry Vann.

Once elected to the treasurer-recorder post in November 2008, Johnson began seeking to bring control of the city court clerk's office back under that position. A referendum in August 2008 affirmed that the court clerk should remain under the control of the treasurer-recorder.

Despite affirming opinions from the state Attorney General's office, the City Council had voted 3-2 in May not to return control of the clerk's office to Johnson.

While saying he had no idea why the council decided to act Monday night, Johnson did confirm that he recently sent a letter to 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson asking him to look into the issue.

City Councilman Douglas Buddy Hines said the panel - which was without Councilman Tony Aikens and Mayor Matt Brookshire - decided to take action to keep in compliance with the law and to make sure the current success in collecting revenue continued.

"This was a good move," Hines said. "We were concerned about keeping that office running well."

Johnson Jr. regains control of Lenoir City court clerk
Tammy Cheek News Herald

Following a closed-door executive meeting Monday of Lenoir City Council, its members voted to return the city court clerk's responsibilities to the recorder/treasurer, as the city's charter requires.

The executive session took place near the end of the regular meeting in city hall.  The council voted to add an item to the agenda and then voted to repeal a May 12, 2008 ordinance, which relegated the city court's duties to the city court judge. This action was taken following the retirement of the city court clerk at that time. 

"It came to us to ask Mrs. Maggie Hunt, when she was asked to the interim clerk, she decided after a short while she did not want to do the clerk work and be the court reporter for (City Court Judge) Terry Vance's court," said Vice Mayor Eddie Simpson, who was sitting in for Mayor Matt Brookshire, who was absent from the meeting. 

"That left us in a position to have to appoint someone to that position, and at that time we elected to appoint Jennifer Gamble Jackson to that position. She took that and did a fantastic job," he said.  "She got our collections up considerably," Simpson added. 

During an April 27 meeting this year, however, City Treasurer/Recorder Bobby Johnson Jr. asked for the duties to be returned to his office. At that time, the council decided to postpone action until it could review the 2008 ordinance. "What I would suggest we do, to get this thing back in line is to consider amending or repealing that ordinance, and we did have an ordinance in our possession last month," Simpson said. "I'm not sure how many people brought that with them, but that ordinance has been prepared and has been before us, and I would recommend some action be made on that ordinance, which would repeal the (2008 ordinance)."

The motion was made by Council member Mike Henline, seconded by member Douglas "Buddy" Hines. Councilman Tony Aikens was not at the meeting.
Henline clarified the motion: "We are putting our city recorder as the city court clerk." Bobby Johnson Sr. added the board was "putting it back like it was."

As the vote was called, Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. read a prepared statement that addressed an apparent conflict of interest stemming from his son being city recorder.  The statement said, in part, "I declare that my argument and my vote answer only to my conscience and to my obligations to my constituents and citizens this body represents."  The board members present, including Johnson Sr., voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance.

During the April 27 meeting, Aikens challenged Johnson Sr.'s voting on the issue, because of the relationship between Johnson Sr. and Johnson Jr. Hines explained rescinding that ordinance was contingent upon Johnson Jr.'s leaving the personnel as is.

"This puts it back like the city charter said," Johnson Jr. said.  He assured he had no intention of terminating anyone's job, but he was looking at cross-training personnel.