No true bill on Kirkham

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By Damon Lawrence

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office looked into some issues that involved former Roane County property assessor Teresa Kirkham and current Property Assessor David Morgan.

Neither resulted in criminal charges. An addendum posted on the District Attorney General’s website said the Roane County grand jury chose to take no action on the matters when it met last week.

Kirkham’s involved the reduced appraisal on the Regions Bank building in downtown Harriman.

“We changed appraisals daily in that office, and there was nothing illegal done on it,” she said.

The building is owned by Dr. Clary P. Foote. Morgan claimed Kirkham lowered the appraisal on the building because she was dating Foote.

Kirkham doesn’t deny the personal relationship, but said she lowered the appraisal because the building use changed use after Foote bought it.

District Attorney General Russell Johnson asked the comptroller’s office to investigate.

“I was unable to determine that the 2012 property value at which former assessor Teresa Kirkham arrived was improper or unsupported by reasonable basis,” Comptroller Assistant General Counsel Chadwick W. Jackson said in a letter to Johnson.

“Given the fact that like-minds appear to differ as to the value of the subject property even among experts in the field whom were employed by the assessor’s office at the time of the reappraisal and an independent appraiser retained by the property owner, a determination that former assessor was unjustified in making the changes could not be reached,” he added.

The building was appraised at a little more than $2 million before Kirkham lowered it to approximately $1.5 million.

“It’s appropriate for the assessor’s office to change appraisals,” she said. “Nothing was done as favoritism for him (Foote) because of the situation at the time.”

Foote purchased the building from First States Investors 4200 LLC.

Morgan erroneously had a $4,577 refund issued to that entity last year.

Johnson asked the comptroller’s office to investigate Morgan’s handling of the situation.

“Without an appeal timely filed by the 2011 property owners, an entity listed as First States Investors, Assessor Morgan was not authorized under state law to issue a refund check for any errors in value for the 2011 tax year,” Jackson said in a letter to Johnson.

“Assuming Mr. Morgan determined that the property was overvalued in 2011 and that the previous property owners overpaid based upon any subsequent assessment changes, the only mechanism in the law which would authorize him to issue a refund under these circumstances would be if either the County Board of Equalization or the State Board of Equalization heard an appeal and approved the change in assessment.”

The $4,577 refund check was never cashed by First States Investors. The check was sent to Foote, but he returned it to the county.

Trustee Wilma Eblen said the check was later redeposited into the county funds.

“This matter appears to have been the result of an oversight by Assessor Morgan or a misunderstanding as to his legal authority regarding refunds,” Jackson said.

The grand jury also heard about a TBI investigation that revealed inappropriate use of an office computer after hours by one of Kirkham’s former employees.

When asked by the Roane County News to comment on the matter, Kirkham declined.

The grand jury determined the actions of the former employee did not amount to criminal conduct, but recommended Roane County adopt guidelines for computer use by its employees.

The addendum said the TBI investigation was sparked by complaints from Morgan and employees of his who also worked for Kirkham.

“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,” the addendum said.