click TBI questions former Lenoir City official about missing personnel records

By Natalie Neysa Alund

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

LENOIR CITY — A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent today questioned former Lenoir City Treasurer/Recorder/Clerk Debbie Cook as part of an investigation into missing personnel records belonging to four assistant clerks who’d been reprimanded last year for reasons including falsifying time cards.

Cook, who served her post until retiring in 2007, said a TBI special agent asked her about the missing paperwork, if she knew how it was leaked to the News Sentinel and if she’d ever tried to punish any of the assistant clerks who worked for her, but was prohibited from doing so.

Cook said she told the TBI agent she knew nothing about the files or how the News Sentinel obtained them. She also said she told the agent that on some occasions she’d made efforts to have a clerk reprimanded for falsifying time cards and viewing pornography while at work.

She said she informed city officials, but the clerk was never disciplined.

The agent who questioned Cook today told a News Sentinel reporter he could not comment on the case as it remains under investigation.

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

The missing reprimands, written by Bobby Johnson Jr. in July 2010 while he was serving as treasurer/recorder/clerk, bear the signatures of Johnson and City Administrator Dale Hurst.

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

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.

Newly appointed Treasurer/Recorder/Clerk Jimmy Wilburn and recently appointed City Attorney James Scott said they were unaware of Johnson’s write-ups for assistant clerks Jennifer Jackson, Shelley Herron, Rebekah Haydon and Julie Harvey.

They also said they did not know where the paperwork is for those employees who remain on the job.

The missing documents, some titled “Written Reprimand,” address Haydon leaving work early without telling her supervisor and Jackson covering for Haydon by clocking her out at the end of the day. They also reference Jackson, Herron and Harvey’s involvement in an incident 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 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.

More details as they develop online and in Wednesday’s News Sentinel.