Lee recused in appraisal investigation

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By Damon Lawrence

Robert Lee, the general counsel for the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, has recused himself from the Regions Bank building case, according to District Attorney General Russell Johnson.
Dr. Clary P. Foote bought the building in January. Roane County Property Assessor David Morgan has alleged former assessor Teresa Kirkham lowered the appraisal on the building because she was dating Foote.
Johnson said he asked Lee to “initiate a review or single parcel audit” of the appraisal.
“Since issue was raised last time, he asked the comptroller on the front end to assign another attorney,” Johnson said.
Johnson said attorney Chadwick Jackson of the comptroller’s office will be conducting the audit review. Johnson said it should be done within three weeks.  
Kirkham doesn’t deny she dated Foote, but said she lowered the appraisal on the Regions Bank building because it changed use after Foote bought it.
Johnson said he requested the review after going over Morgan’s complaint and speaking with County Trustee Wilma Eblen and County Executive Ron Woody.
Kirkham and Lee are friends on the Facebook social network. Johnson interviewed Lee in 2010 after Roane County Attorney Tom McFarland said Kirkham created an appearance of impropriety when she requested raises for the five-member Roane County Board of Equalization while they were hearing appeals from property owners. Kirkham was cleared of any wrongdoing.   
“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 about the investigation. “He did not see any ethical violation and felt that Kirkham acted properly in making the request.”
McFarland accused Lee of trying to protect Kirkham in the 2010 investigation.
“McFarland feels that Bobby Lee at the comptroller’s office feels obligated to protect Kirkham as a property assessor, so that her appraisals will not be questioned or appealed further,” Johnson wrote.