click  TBI looks into missing records


Ex-Lenoir City official meets with investigator

By Natalie Neysa Alund

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

LENOIR CITY - A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Tuesday questioned former Lenoir City Treasurer/Recorder/Clerk Debbie Cook as part of an investigation into missing personnel records of four assistant clerks.

The clerks had been targeted for reprimands by Cook and her successor, the two former officials said, for reasons including falsifying time cards.

Cook, who retired in 2007, said Special Agent Jason Legg asked her questions including if she knew how the missing disciplinary records were obtained by the News Sentinel and if she'd ever been prohibited from punishing assistant clerks.

Loudon County District Attorney General Russell Johnson asked TBI to investigate the missing records last week after paperwork for the employees was not in their personnel files during a public inspection by a reporter.

Newly appointed Treasurer/Recorder/Clerk Jimmy Wilburn has said he was unaware of the assistant clerk's write-ups and did not know where the paperwork is for those employees.

Outside Cook's home Tuesday, Legg said he could not comment on the case that centers on assistant clerks Jennifer Jackson, Shelley Herron, Rebekah Haydon and Julie Harvey.

Missing paperwork includes reprimands written by Bobby Johnson Jr. in July 2010, while he was serving as treasurer/recorder/clerk. They bear the signatures of Johnson and City Administrator Dale Hurst, and some of it addresses the clerks leaving early without telling Johnson and other clerks clocking them out at the end of the day.

Other write-ups reference three clerks' involvement in which a credit card payment was not recorded, resulting in the issuance of a faulty warrant, with someone being arrested and going to jail.

Other documents missing include signed statements by clerks admitting they cashed personal checks using the city cash drawer or borrowed money from the drawer.

Johnson resigned Dec. 30, citing personal reasons including stress, and asked to return to his former maintenance position with Parks and Recreation. He took a $26,000 pay cut with the move.

Johnson confirmed he was also questioned Tuesday. He did not say about what.

According to Cook, Johnson's predecessor, some of the reprimands Johnson filed are consistent with complaints she made regarding some of the same assistant clerks.

Cook said Legg told her Tuesday that city officials are trying to blame the leak on her and Johnson. She said he did not say which city officials.

Cook said she told the TBI agent she knew nothing about the files or how the News Sentinel obtained them.

"I didn't even know they (the assistant clerks) had been in trouble with Bobby," Cook said, adding she learned about his write-ups after reading the News Sentinel.

Cook said she also told Legg that on at least two occasions, she attempted to reprimand Jackson for allegedly sending pornographic e-mails at work and for allegedly falsifying her time card. She provided records to the News Sentinel to substantiate her claims. Upon inspection, those incidents were not recorded in Jackson's personnel file.

"When I gave that information to city officials, including Dale Hurst, I never did hear anything about it," she said. "They (the assistant clerks) were not written up."

She did say that on one occasion, Jackson was sent home with pay for insubordination after cursing at her - a reprimand located in Jackson's personnel file.

Cook said Legg also told her he'd questioned all four clerks. Recently appointed City Attorney James Scott said he could not confirm or deny that as the case remains under investigation by TBI.

Natalie Neysa Alund may be reached at 865-342-6307.