State says assessor's request OK

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By Damon Lawrence

State officials said Roane County Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham did no wrong when she requested raises for the five-member County Board of Equalization.     
“We looked at that, and we don’t see it’s an issue,” said Robert Lee, general counsel for the Tennessee  Comptroller’s Office.
District Attorney General Russell Johnson said he’s also spoken with Lee and could wrap up his investigation into the matter on Friday.
Kirkham requested in an August letter to former county executive Mike Farmer that equalization board members have their pay increased from $100 per day to $174.18 per day.
“It’s more or less she’s just being a conduit for them,” Lee said.
County Attorney Tom McFarland saw it differently.
He sent Kirkham a letter last week, which said she was out of line.
“When you advocate, in writing, for a pay increase for the very board that hears individual appeals resulting from your reappraisal, at the very least it represents an appearance of impropriety,” McFarland wrote.
McFarland said he was just trying to give Kirkham sound advice.
She accused him of playing politics and trying to ruin her vacation.
Board member Freddie Harvey said the idea to request a raise came from the equalization board.
“I’ve got the letter from Teresa where they actually asked her to write the letter in the first place,” Johnson said.
McFarland said he expects property owners to appeal under allegations that Kirkham’s request was an attempt to influence the board to uphold her reappraisal numbers.
McFarland said he contacted the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service about the matter, as well as sitting county attorneys and former county attorneys in other counties.
“The actions I took were unanimous in all their opinions,” McFarland said.
Johnson said he’s asked for the names and numbers of those attorneys.
This year’s state-mandated reappraisal has caused hundreds of property owners to appeal their new assessments.
The equalization board has been hearing appeals since June.
Board members said they expect to finish up this month.  
“Roane County is a unique situation in that they’ve gone so long,” Lee said. “Most of the time the county board does not meet as long as Roane County has had to do this year.”