Simpson clears air on allegations

Brittany Davenport News-Herald

Lenoir City Councilman Eddie Simpson denied threatening previous city recorder Bobby Johnson Jr. over reprimanding city employees.

"I would like to explain my knowledge of Mr. Johnson's allegations of alleged threats that I have been accused of," Simpson said at Monday night's city council meeting.

In early 2010, Simpson said Johnson asked his opinion about reprimanding employees, to which Simpson responded as long as Johnson treated everyone equally that is exactly what he should do.

"At that time, I was told no written policies were in place therefore he verbally reprimanded four employees for various offenses and made policies to refer to in the future," Simpson said.

In early July 2010, Simpson said he saw a payment request for around $700 for political giveaway items.

These items were addressed in the city audit of the fiscal year ending June 20, 2010.

Johnson Jr.  said he made the three purchases that included recreational balls, pens and calendars.

Simpson brought these purchases to City Administrator Dale Hurst's attention, Simpson said.

He said he felt like this was a misuse of city funds and was obligated immediately to turn it over.

Hurst said he was unsure if the purchases were used for re-election purposes but Johnson's name was on the products.

The products were not used for re-election purposes, but Johnson's name and title was on the items as they were used for his capacity as city recorder/treasurer, Johnson said in a previous statement.

According to Simpson, although Johnson had verbally reprimanded the four employees earlier, he originally agreed to place written reprimands in their respective personnel files, but allegedly decided to hold them on his desk and not file them.

Johnson resigned from his city recorder position in December 2010.

"This is what happened as best as I recall. The threat from me never happened, unless you consider doing the right thing, and telling Mr. Johnson to be fair, and that what he did was not showing good leadership, and saying it's the 'kettle calling the pot black.' I have no regrets on my handling of this matter," Simpson said.

Earlier in the meeting the investigation into missing city employee records was addressed by City Attorney James Scott.

The missing records surfaced in January when they were presented to Scott and City Recorder Jimmy Wilburn by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Scott and Wilburn were not able to locate the presented records in any city personnel files.

The records were apparently stolen, Scott said in a previous statement to the News-Herald, and at Monday night's city council meeting he said he was willing to take the News-Sentinel to court in order to divulge their source for the records.

"I'm sure they were well intended in trying to do their due diligence in reporting, but in the same token, records were missing from the city that shouldn't be missing," Scott said.

The personnel records in question were from 2005 and include reprimands for four assistant clerks: Jennifer Jackson, Shelley Herron, Rebekah Haydon and Julie Harvey.

The documents cite Haydon for leaving work early and Jackson clocking Haydon out at the end of the day.

They also cite Jackson, Herron and Harvey's involvement in a payment not being recorded, resulting in a warrant leading to an arrest of the individual who made the payment.

The documents include an alleged handwritten statement by Jackson noting clerks cashed personal checks using the city clerk's cash drawer. The note also said Jackson and other clerks borrowed money from that same drawer.

Another handwritten note by Harvey read she was aware of a fellow employee cashing a $125 check and then returning the cash for the check a few days later.

Herron is the daughter of Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron. Jackson is former city recorder/treasure Debbie Cook's niece. Haydon is the daughter of Lenoir City Judge Terry Vann's secretary.

Employee records, in general, can contain personal information including addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. When records are requested properly this information is redacted.

Council members, city employees and citizens of the community should take the issue very seriously, Scott said.

As city attorney he said his job is to protect the privacy issues of the people who work for the city.
"Somebody removed them without proper authorization and technically that constitutes a criminal offense," he said.

Council could have discussed this matter in executive session, said Mayor Tony Aikens.

"It's important we let the citizens know," he said.

Council agreed with Scott's recommendation to postpone further action until the completion of TBI's investigation.

"We'll wait to hear from TBI and the results from the investigations and proceed from there ... It's not my decision, it's going to be council's," Scott said.

Simpson also questioned the Knoxville News-Sentinel and "critics' Web pages" sources of private city documents.

"There are people in our community promoting hatred and negativity, which saddens me," Simpson said.

"We have seen what putting a target on a map accomplished in Arizona," Simpson said, speaking of the January shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

"I feel some words have been said on websites and blogs promoting this type of reaction," he said noting one site stated "Some of these people in high places need to be brought down."
The community needs to support and not condemn officials, he said.

"There are some vindictive people in our community that maybe didn't get elected or got up on the wrong side of the bed that are promoting hatred. My mother is 82-years-old and if I talked negative about people or hide behind my Christian upbringing, she would, and should, call my hand on it," Simpson said with an "amen" from councilman Douglas "Buddy" Hines.

Simpson went on to discuss a recent post on an unnamed website that he said he did not intend to discuss at the meeting.

The website, Simpson said, claimed he had two health insurance policies, one with the city and one with the county.

"I do not have county insurance. I do have city insurance," he said.

During Simpson's statements, Becky Watkins, a local blogger who was in attendance at the meeting, repeatedly requested Aikens' permission to speak and was denied.

"I am a citizen of the United States of America ... Do I not have the right to speak?" Watkins asked.

Aikens stated he had already asked if any citizens present had any comments about something not on the agenda and Watkins would be permitted to speak at the next council meeting.

"I didn't know this was going to come up," Watkins said.

"There needs to be an order kept and I plan on doing that," Aikens said after the meeting.

Fellow councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. was vocal in his remarks regarding Simpson's statements against Johnson's family.

"I don't appreciate that," he said. "You stole water ... you got caught stealing," Johnson Sr. said of a 2006 incident where Simpson was accused of allegedly stealing water by an Executive Meadows resident.

The resident claimed he had seen Simpson use water from a fire hydrant to wash a street. The resident said he "couldn't even get the police to make a report."

Simpson did not deny using the water, saying he had a meter he usually used but neglected to do so on this occasion.

According to the LCUB general manager at the time, Fred Nelson, Simpson came to the office to inform him he had used the water without metering it. Nelson said he told Simpson he "wasn't going to treat him any different" than anyone else, charging Simpson a $250 tampering fee. Nelson said the complaint received by LCUB alleged Simpson used approximately one-half hour of water. Simpson agreed to pay for an hour's worth of water in addition to the fine.

In response to Johnson's allegations Simpson said he was out of town and a partner at the time used the water to spray off a muddy road and the partner was unaware the water needed read.

Simpson said the citizen who said he saw him using the water was referring to Simpson's workers.

"I don't make any excuses for it, I was just telling him last night, I didn't steal any water," he said.

Johnson Sr. said the whole issue with the reprimands took place before he was on council and he does not understand why it was not taken care of them.

"They had the same problems with the girls down there and they didn't want to do anything and now all the sudden ... All I want him (Simpson) to do is leave my family alone, we didn't do anything," Johnson said.