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Instead of accusing him of having a personal relationship with Teresa Kirkham, District Attorney General Russell Johnson told Property Assessor David Morgan to worry about learning how to do his own job.
“My best advice to you as a fellow public official is to concentrate on learning to do your job better,” Johnson told Morgan in a letter in late 2012.
“In my opinion you have had a few missteps already that are the result of inexperience in the position and over-eagerness to prove that you are better than Teresa, issues that played out in public meetings before the County Commission.”
Johnson’s reference was in response to Morgan erroneously petitioning the Roane County Commission last October to approve a $4,577 refund to First States Investors 4200 LLC.
A month went by before Morgan, elected to office in August, corrected his error.
Johnson’s letter was a response to one Mogan sent to the District Attorney’s office on Dec. 17, 2012. In that letter, Morgan asked Johnson to recuse his office from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe Johnson initiated last year. He asked the TBI to look into allegations Morgan and his employees made against Kirkham and Melvin Moore, a chief appraiser for the assessor’s office during Kirkham’s tenure as property assessor.
“The public perception is that the former property assessor Ms. Teresa Kirkham has a personal relationship with you and other members of your staff, thereby making it an uneasy task to investigate the matters at hand,” Morgan wrote.
Assessor’s office employee Jerry Bare secretly recorded Moore watching pornography on an office computer.
In a signed statement, Bare claims Kirkham told him “she checked with the DA,” and Bare, not Moore, could be convicted of a crime.
Bare also said he was afraid Kirkham would “come after me and the appraisers,” for making a statement.
“Whether this relationship is perceived or real, these thoughts are in the minds of the appraisers and others in this community,” Morgan said in his letter to Johnson.
“The question of whether your office will be able to fairly investigate the issues involving Ms. Kirkham has come up many times over the past few weeks.”
“My suggestion to eliminate any concerns of impropriety between your office and the investigation dealing with Ms. Kirkham, would be to recuse your office from this investigation,” Morgan concluded.
Johnson responded to Morgan’s letter a few days letter.
“David, I realize that you are a political opponent of Teresa Kirkham and that you and some members of your office are scared of Teresa because of her perceived power and wealth. I am not,” Johnson said.
He also said he wouldn’t be influenced by Morgan’s assertions.
“I do not share the same opinion that you have as to public perception, no matter how hard that you or your associates may work to shape that perception through the traditional or social media,” Johnson said.
“I will not be influenced, intimidated or threatened either by you, Teresa Kirkham or whatever is rumored or gossiped on social media in an effort by one side or the other in an attempt to shape public perception.”
Commissioners questioned Morgan about the $4,577 refund error during a meeting on Dec. 10.
“Fortunately, the refund check was sent back,” Commissioner Ron Berry said. “Otherwise, we could have been in a situation where that $4,577 got through the cracks.
“Fortunately, Ms. Wilma (Eblen), the trustee, was all over it and was protecting our interest,” Berry added.
Johnson asked the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to investigate the erroneous refund.
The findings were presented to the grand jury in February. Morgan was not charged with a crime.
“This matter appears to have been the result of an oversight by assessor Morgan or a misunderstanding as to his legal authority regarding refunds,” concluded the comptroller’s assistant general counsel.
Results of the TBI investigation into Kirkham and Moore was also presented to the grand jury. The allegations Morgan and his employees made did not result in criminal charges.
“The grand jury, after receiving the full investigative report and hearing testimony from the TBI agent, determined that the action of the former employee did not amount to criminal conduct,” an addendum to the February grand jury report said.
“Furthermore, the grand jury felt that the actions of Kirkham, upon learning of the inappropriate computer use, were based in part upon advice from an attorney at CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) and not of a criminal nature.”
Johnson also shared some of his thoughts about Kirkham.
“I learned early on in this office that she is a lightning rod for controversy, whether the allegations have merit or are merely politically motivated,” Johnson wrote.
Morgan defeated Kirkham in last year’s election.
“I think, no matter how well or not Teresa may have done her job on a daily basis, that her controversial personal style made it almost impossible for her to continue in that position,” Johnson said in the letter. “Your (Morgan’s) successful election is evidently proof of my assessment.”