Judge reprimands Assessor of Property

Author: Greg Wilkerson, News Herald

County Assessor of Property Chuck Jenkins said he wasn’t aware that a letter he sent County Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons regarding the outcome of a pending lawsuit against the county was inappropriate until Simmons reprimanded him from the bench during a special hearing Monday.

Simmons went so far as to suggest stepping down from the trial, though lawyers on both sides agreed that would not be necessary.

The Nov. 3 trial of the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency’s lawsuit against the county stemmed from a dispute over which entity would issue building permits and handle codes and inspections for some communities around Tellico Lake. Jenkins, who was on the county commission at the time the countywide codes and inspection program was put in place, said he did not testify in the short trial, but was present.

He said the contents of the letter included information Jenkins felt was relative to the case, but was not included in the information given at trial.

“I went back to the office and wrote the letter,obviously because I thought my perspective was important,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t until Monday’s hearing began that I realized the letter would not be considered.”

He said when Simmons opened the letter and realized it related to the case, which is still pending a decision, Simmons put it back in the envelope. The portion he read stated:

“On Monday, Nov. 3, I attended court proceedings in the case of TRDA v. Loudon County. The purpose of my letter is to bring to your attention certain aspects of this case that may not have been fully vetted.”

Jenkins said he believed he was acting as a third party and a “friend of the court,” however Simmons responded that Jenkins, as Assessor of Property, was a county employee and therefore aligned with the defendant, Loudon County.

“It certainly was not my in tent to disrupt the proceedings of the case,” Jenkins said. He said Simmons accepted his apology and explanation, but also stated that Jenkins’ behavior was equal to jury tampering.

“We (Jenkins and his attorney) take great issue with that and don’t see that that was a fair statement,” Jenkins said.

He said he was approached by County Mayor Doyle Arp following the hearing, and that Arp voiced his criticism of Jenkins and the letter.

“It got a little heated and at one point he asked me to step outside,” Jenkins said. “I don’t know what his intentions were.”

At that point Jenkins said he told Arp that if he wanted to say any more about the issue it should go through Jenkins’ lawyer.

“I thought we had a pretty good case, and I hate to see it blown out in the water,” Arp said about Monday’s argument. “You just don’t do it. There’s no excuse for (writing the letter).”

Arp said the argument ensued because he believed Jenkins’ actions had the potential to be a major expense for the county if Simmons had recused himself.

“We would have had to go to another court and have a complete hearing on it again,” Arp said. “Whatever we had expended so far, it would probably have been double that again. We shouldn’t do stuff like that.”

Arp was also critical of Jenkins’ claim that he didn’t know sending the letter was inappropriate.

“You’ve got to be real bad off not to know you can’t influence a juror or a judge,” Arp said. “We live in America. You can’t do backdoor deals.”

Jenkins said he believed Arp’s heated words were in part because their relationship has been “somewhat strained” in recent months over discrepancies Jenkins discovered after becoming the Assessor of Property,a position formerly held by Arp.

After taking the position Jenkins found 178 properties with connections to developer Mike Ross that had their assessed values reduced by a total of more than $11 million in 2005, while Arp was the Assessor of Property.According to Jenkins, he estimated that action cost the county more than$132,000 in tax revenue that can never be recovered. Those assessments have since been corrected. 

“Mayor Arp’s animosity toward me is well known, so I’m not surprised that he has seized on this as another opportunity to lash out,” Jenkins said.