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By DAMON LAWRENCE
The decision on whether property assessor Teresa Kirkham did anything wrong on her expense reporting could come from the district attorney general’s office.
Following the advice of County Attorney Tom McFarland, the Roane County Ethics Committee decided that two ethics complaints filed against Kirkham should be turned over to District Attorney General Russell Johnson for further investigation.
The complaints were filed by Steven Robinette, whom Kirkham defeated in a landslide in the August election. She has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and said she would welcome an investigation by Johnson.
“I’m glad they turned it over to the DA,” Kirkham said. “I want the DA to investigate.”
Robinette said he was delighted the ethics committee accepted McFarland’s recommendation, but said he’s not happy with the decision to turn things over to Johnson.
“I think the district attorney needs to recuse himself and appoint Mr. McFarland as the pro-tem DA,” Robinette said.
McFarland said he’s not interested in that position.
Robinette had another suggestion.
“Why not Greg Isaacs?,” he said.
Isaacs, a high-profile attorney from Knoxville, helped Robinette obtain Kirkham’s cell phone records earlier this year.
Robinette matched those with her mileage reports, which is the basis for his ethics complaints.
The complaints allege Kirkham committed fraud by billing the county for local mileage when she was out of state.
Kirkham has said an employee used her vehicle on those two occasions, and she felt like she was justified in getting reimbursed for the mileage.
In September, the ethics committee asked McFarland to look into the complaints and report back to them with a recommendation.
McFarland said he had no choice but to recommend they be turned over to the district attorney because Kirkham refused to cooperate with his investigation by declining to give a statement under oath.
A letter submitted by Kirkham’s attorney, J. Polk Cooley, said she declined to give a statement under oath because she believes McFarland has a conflict of interest.
Cooley attempted to address the committee about the issue during Tuesday’s meeting, but chairman Troy Beets stopped him.
“He probably could have cleared it up if they had let him speak,” Kirkham said.
Cooley’s letter alleges a close relationship between McFarland and Kirkham’s ex-husband, area convenience store tycoon Steve Kirkham. The Kirkhams recently went through a bitter divorce.
“We suggest that Mr. McFarland should recognize this appearance of conflict and understand why Ms. Kirkham is reluctant to undergo a statement under oath by Mr. McFarland, or to have Mr. McFarland investigate these ethics complaints,” the letter states.
The letter also alleges McFarland, who has a private practice in Kingston, has a conflict of interest because he once served as counsel for Robinette and Robinette’s girlfriend.
McFarland called the conflict of interest allegations a diversionary tactic.
“Steve Robinette is not the one that required me to do this investigation,” McFarland said. “Steve Kirkham is not the one that required me to do this investigation. The Roane County Ethics Committee by unanimous vote required me to do this investigation.”
McFarland noted that another complaint he was asked to look into involving Teresa Kirkham, which dealt with reimbursement expenses for an out of town trip, was dismissed on his recommendation.
“You can attack the person that’s trying to get to the bottom of the question, or you can cooperate and tell the taxpayers what happened,” McFarland said. “That’s all I asked her to do, sit down and answer all these questions that remain unanswered.”