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After-hour petition pickup stirs courthouse controversy

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

An anonymous phone call.

Inquiries by the county’s top law enforcement officer and prosecutor.

One official not wanting her name mentioned and another saying it isn’t a big deal.

This was some of the fallout of Commissioner Ron Berry’s trip to the courthouse to pick up his petition to run for office.

Berry reportedly contacted the election commission office on Jan. 21 and asked that his qualifying petition be prepared in advance of his arrival.

However, when he showed up at the courthouse, election commission staffers had already left for the day and activated the office’s security system.

Roane County Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway explained what happened next in a letter to District Attorney General Russell Johnson.

“Mr. Berry saw Teresa Kirkham, Roane County Property Assessor, and they engaged in casual conversation,” Holiway wrote. “During their conversation, the janitor showed up to clean the election commission office.”

“A suggestion was made that in order to save another trip to the courthouse that the petition was probably left on a desk in anticipation of Mr. Berry’s arrival,” Holiway continued. “Having no idea that this action may cause a potential problem, Mr. Berry went into the election commission office with the janitor.”

The petition was laying on the desk of assistant administrator Holly Harmon.

“They had my petition on the corner of Holly’s desk, and I went in and picked it up,” Berry said.

Holiway said he didn’t think the incident was a big deal.

“He just went in to see if his petition may have been laying there since he had asked us to prepare it ahead of time,” Holiway said.

Someone else thought it was a big deal because they notified Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton about the incident with an anonymous phone call.

“They never said who they were,” Stockton said. “They just said you need to talk to Mr. Holiway about an election commission incident that involved a county official.”

After speaking with Holiway, Stockton said he didn’t think the incident warranted a criminal investigation.

Ditto Johnson.

“Since this was merely an issue of convenience, Commissioner Berry should have waited to the next day,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Holiway. “However, I agree with your assessment that it was merely an error in judgment, and there does not appear to be any violation of criminal law.”

Kirkham sent an e-mail to Roane County News publisher Johnny Teglas on Jan. 28 denying any involvement.

“Make sure my name is not mentioned in connection with the petition and Ron Berry,” she wrote. “I had nothing to do with it.”

According to Johnson, she did.

“It obviously would have been better if Ms. Kirkham had not directed the janitor to unlock the election commission office,” Johnson wrote in his letter to Holiway.

Berry said he wasn’t trying to skirt security by entering the office after hours.

“I saw it laying there,” he said.