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Property assessor's attorney says law calls for affidavit

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

rccindysimpson@bellsouth.net

The Roane County Ethics Committee ground to a halt Thursday night in its discussion of several complaints filed against Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham.

The reason was questions about whether complainants needed a signed affidavit attached to their complaints, a question raised by Kirkham’s attorney, J. Polk Cooley.

Cooley contended rules for the Tennessee Ethics Commission require a signed affidavit. He believes that mandate is also applicable to the county entity.

“I find there is no oath to the original complaint,” Cooley told the board.

“The statute says they should be sworn to. That renders it unqualified to even be brought before you,” he said.

County Attorney Tom McFarland was asked to look at whether the rule does apply to the committee before it takes further steps.

Committee Chairman Troy Beets said the procedure the committee follows was created by the County Technical Advisory Service and approved by the state.

He said he believes the complaints in question fall under the policy that was adopted for the committee.

“I feel like the ethics committee did as it was charged to do by the ethics policy that the commission passed and followed it line for line,” Beets said following the meeting.

“We met our responsibility with fidelity and integrity.”

Cooley explained the reasoning behind wanting an affidavit is they want to consider sanctions and possibly perjury if the items are sworn to.

Member Wade McCullough made the motion for McFarland to look into the legislative question, postponing action on the five complaints until they have an opinion from the attorney.

McCullough had to withdraw his earlier motion to have three of the complaints referred to McFarland for his consideration.

The complaints regard contention that Kirkham filed for reimbursement for meals and mileage for an unattended meeting, and that she charged the county for mileage during a time she was in Florida and a second time when she was in Hawaii.

In those complaints, filed by Steve Robinette, who ran unsuccessfully against Kirkham for the property assessor seat, he mentions and asks questions regarding Kirkham’s statement that during those times she was out of state and she says an employee was using her vehicle.

McCullough did have questions regarding the complaints. He asked whether the county has a countywide policy regarding expense reimbursement, saying only a small paragraph in the employee handbook mentions it.

McFarland responded that he is not sure that the policy applied to individual officeholders.

Beets said the commission adopted the state policy.

“The policy now is that you will turn in expense sheets within 30 days,” he said.

Robinette did not linger at the meeting after the hearing of those complaints was postponed and could not be reached for comment.

Before discussion began on the complaints, McCullough made a statement that he had been contacted by the respondent — Kirkham — on the complaints. He said he believed that nothing was said that would impact his ability to act fairly.

He said Kirkham initiated conversation with him on Tuesday, Aug. 12, and he returned her call on that same day.

McCullough expressed a willingness to recuse himself from the meeting if members felt it necessary.

“If you say you can judge this impartially than I take you at your word,” Beets said.

Following the meeting, Beets and others agreed that a policy may need to be added that would admonish either complainant or respondent from contacting a member of the committee.

In light of the decision to look first into the necessity to have an affidavit, a new meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 4.