Lenoir City mulls changing elected office to appointed

Panel may ask City Council to put recorder-treasurer issue on February ballot

Hugh G. Willett
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lenoir City officials are trying to change the position of recorder-clerk-treasurer from an elected office to one appointed by the City Council.

The move follows the resignation of former Treasurer-Recorder Debbie Cook earlier this year. Cook claimed in her letter of resignation that she was being harassed by other members of city government who wanted to control the office of treasurer.

The office has been an elected position since the City Charter was first written 100 years ago.

According to a copy of a memo from Municipal Technical Advisory Service consultant Margaret Morris to Lenoir City Administrator Dale Hurst, the City Charter Review Committee has asked for advice on changing the City Charter to allow appointment of the treasurer position.

"I brought the subject up," Hurst said. "It's been discussed before, and I discussed it with the previous recorder before her retirement."

Maggie Hunt, who has filled the recorder-clerk-treasurer position by appointment since Cook's departure in April, would continue to remain a temporary appointment until November 2008. After November 2008, according to the memo, the position would be filled permanently by appointment.

"It's a very technical job, and we want to get the most qualified person," Hurst said. "I think the position should be filled like the chief of police or fire or any other department head."

To amend the charter, voters would have to approve the change. The Charter Review Committee will vote Thursday night at City Hall whether to ask City Council to put the issue on the ballot for February.

The council will have to decide in the next few weeks whether to put the issue on the ballot along with any other changes and revisions, Hurst said.

"The position of treasurer/recorder is by far the most important position in city government," said Van Shaver, Lenoir City resident and former county commissioner.

"As the chief financial officer, the person who fills the position is tasked with the responsibilities of managing all the city's money."

Shaver said it appears over the last year that there has been an effort by some in city government to take control of the treasurer's office.

"Do we really want the chief financial officer of the city to be no more than a political appointee from the friends and family plan?" he asked.

Cook, who was deputy court clerk for 18 years before being elected twice to the position of treasurer/recorder, said she believes that it is important to have a qualified person in the job, regardless of whether the position is elected or appointed.

"It's not whether the person is elected or appointed. The problem is that some of the politicians in City Hall want control of the office," Cook said. "That's why they were doing what they were doing to me.

"For 100 years, the citizens have been smart enough to select the right person for the job," she added.