DA opinion: Kirkham raise request not out of line

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham was not out of line when she wrote a letter requesting raises for the County Board of Equalization. This according to District Attorney General Russell Johnson, whose investigation into the matter exonerates Kirkham of any ethical or criminal wrongdoing.

“The board originated the idea of a pay raise independently of any suggestion from Kirkham,” Johnson wrote in a letter to County Attorney Tom McFarland on Monday. “Therefore it was not an attempt by Kirkham to influence the board in her office's favor.”

Kirkham sent a letter to former Roane County executive Mike Farmer on Aug. 6, requesting that equalization board members have their pay increased from $100 per day to $174.18 per day.

McFarland sent Kirkham a letter on Sept. 1, which said the request was inappropriate.

“When you advocate, in writing, for a pay increase for the very board that hears individual appeals resulting from your reappraisal, at the very least it represents an appearance of impropriety,” McFarland wrote.

McFarland said he also forwarded copies of his letter to Johnson and the State Comptroller's Office.

Robert Lee, general counsel for the comptroller's office, said he didn't see anything wrong with Kirkham's request. Johnson spoke with Lee as part of his investigation.

“In Lee's legal opinion Kirkham had not committed 'official misconduct,' nor had she violated any rule or regulation of the Division of Property Assessment,” Johnson wrote in a summary of his investigation. “He did not see any ethical violation and felt that Kirkham acted properly in making the request.”

In his letter to McFarland, Johnson also makes reference to a letter board chairperson Wilma Walker wrote, which specifically asked Kirkham to submit the request for a raise.

“The board actually wrote a letter making the request and creating an easily discoverable public record paper trail, which even a minimal amount of investigative due diligence could have uncovered,” Johnson wrote to McFarland.

For more on this story, read Wednesday's edition of the Roane County News.