Missing Lenoir City reports prompt inquiry
Reprimands for 4 city staffers not in personnel files
Natalie Neysa Alund knoxnews.com
LENOIR CITY - Four Lenoir City assistant clerks received written reprimands last year for falsifying time cards, breaching court procedures and writing a faulty warrant, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel.
But the paperwork for the employees, who remain on the job, was not in their personnel files this week during a public inspection by a reporter, and city officials say they don't know where the paperwork is.
Newly appointed Treasurer/Recorder/Clerk Jimmy Wilburn and recently appointed City Attorney James Scott said they were unaware of the write-ups for assistant clerks Jennifer Jackson, Shelley Herron, Rebekah Haydon and Julie Harvey.
After Wilburn met Wednesday with a News Sentinel reporter, he and Mayor Tony Aikens asked District Attorney General Russell Johnson to investigate.
Johnson confirmed that after his meeting Wednesday with Wilburn and Aikens, he submitted an investigation request to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. A TBI agent has been assigned to the case, spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Thursday.
The reprimands were written by Bobby Johnson Jr. in July 2010 while he was serving as treasurer/recorder/clerk. He resigned Dec. 30.
The missing documents, some titled "Written Reprimand," address:
Other documents missing from the employees' files include an Oct. 20, 2010, signed statement by Jackson in which she wrote that clerks cashed personal checks using the city clerk's cash drawer, and in which she said she and other clerks borrowed money from that same drawer.
"Not one person is to blame. It has been a practice that has been going on and I can assure you it will not be one of my practices," the handwritten statement says.
In a handwritten statement by Harvey, also dated Oct. 20, she wrote that she was aware of a fellow employee cashing a $125 check and then returning the cash for the check a few days later.
Efforts to reach the assistant clerks Thursday were unsuccessful.
"Based upon the serious nature of the contents of these records, the mayor in conjunction with the city attorney, and new city recorder promptly turned this matter over to the district attorney general," Scott wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, the city as a governmental entity will make no further comment at this time and thanks the News-Sentinel for bringing these matters to their attention."
Because the case is under investigation, the district attorney general could not comment further.
Former clerks prepared files
Johnson, the former treasurer/recorder/clerk, left office last month, citing personal reasons including stress. He was elected to the position in 2008.
Johnson asked to return to his former maintenance position with Parks and Recreation. He took a $26,000 pay cut with the move, approved by Aikens.
Lenoir City officials say there was no controversy regarding Johnson's decision.
Disciplinary issues regarding assistant clerks are to be reported to the city administrator by the treasurer/recorder/clerk. The city administrator then recommends whether discipline is needed to the city council and the mayor, who ultimately makes a decision.
Johnson's July 9, 2010, write-ups regarding the assistant clerks state that continuous violations may result in further disciplinary action, up to and including termination. They bear the signatures of Johnson and City Administrator Dale Hurst.
According to Debbie Cook, Johnson's predecessor, some of the reprimands he filed are consistent with complaints she made regarding some of the same assistant clerks. Cook retired in 2007, before her term expired, after 30 years on the job.
Cook said she tried to have some of her assistant clerks reprimanded on multiple occasions.
She said she also caught two of her assistants, one being Jackson, falsifying time cards. Cook provided records to the News Sentinel to substantiate her claim.
Those documents, most from 2005-06, also were not in any of the employees' personnel files during this week's public inspection.
Herron is the daughter of Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron. Jackson is Cook's niece. Haydon is the daughter of Lenoir City Judge Terry Vann's secretary.
Hurst said he did not know why the paperwork was not in the employees' personnel files. He recalled signing the paperwork, but said it was the recorder's responsibility to place it in an employee's personnel file.
Johnson on Thursday said he placed the paperwork in a filing cabinet behind his desk before preparing to place them in the employees' personnel files. He said the cabinet had a lock, but it was broken.
The same day that the reprimands were signed, Johnson said he got in a heated argument with Alderman Eddie Simpson over the written reprimands and left them in the file cabinet. He would not go into detail about what the argument was about.
"I never remember a heated argument with Bobby Johnson," Simpson contended Thursday. "It was just a discussion of him being equal to all employees."
Simpson said he never saw the written reprimands and said he could not recall details about the incident.