A former deputy clerk in the Loudon County Clerk’s office claims to have witnessed repeated violations of state law and county policy, including a “cash for marriage” scheme, a ban on interracial marriages and political campaigning by office employees during work hours.
The claims are listed in a June 27 letter and accompanying complaint to County Mayor Estelle Herron from an attorney for Christy Russell, a former deputy clerk. Russell claims she was fired shortly after the May primary election by Loudon County Clerk Darlene Russell in retaliation for supporting another candidate.
Knoxville attorney Jonathan Taylor said his firm represents the county’s insurance company and is handling the case. He didn’t respond to the claims.
Darlene Russell was elected clerk in 2010 after working in the office for 30 years. She is not related to Christy Russell, who is related to Emily Lorenz, who ran unsuccessfully for the clerk’s office in May.
According to Christy Russell’s attorney, Katherine Young, a lawsuit has been drafted and provided to the county commission and the mayor for review.
“We wanted to alert them to the allegations so they can determine if a resolution can be reached without litigation. To my knowledge, my office has not yet heard from anyone representing Loudon County or the Loudon County clerk,” she said.
Christy Russell claims during her seven years of employment in the clerk’s office she observed numerous apparent violations of county policy and state law.
Christy Russell claims the violations included deputy clerks accepting gifts, including cash, jewelry, wine and Victoria Secret gift cards. She also said employees were instructed to require individuals who wanted to be married to pay $20 in cash in addition to the required government fee.
She said she was told not to ask for the cash “if the couple looked poor.”
The cash collected by the clerks was put into a box and used as a general slush fund for office events and parties, according to the complaint.
The complaint also claims the clerk’s office had a longstanding policy, dating back years, against granting marriage to interracial couples and that after Christy Russell complained she was told a change would be made.
Darlene Russell wouldn’t comment on the allegations.
The complaint also claims “certain favored members of the public” were able to skirt vehicle registration rules, including replacing lost tags without a police report, assigning names to titles without the titleholder being present and using the lowest price possible or executing even trades when estimating vehicle sales prices for tax purposes. In some cases taxes were paid on vehicles valued at half the Blue Book value, the complaint claims.
Christy Russell said she was targeted for dismissal after expressing support for Lorenz as clerk in the May 6 primary. She said she brought her concerns to the county Human Resources Department. She was terminated May 15 for misconduct related to a vehicle transaction she said she had nothing to do with.
Christy Russell also claims that employees in the office were expected to help campaign for Darlene Russell on county time. The practice was noted on the employees’ time sheets, she said.
During the 2010 campaign, Darlene Russell admitted to passing out campaign literature from the clerk’s office. She stopped after then-County Mayor Doyle Arp said campaigning from the office violated county policy.