After months of verbal and legal wrangling, a judge on Thursday night in Roane County allowed two recent appointments to the Lenoir City Housing Authority board to remain in place, while vacating two seats.
"I only did what she asked me to do," Mayor Tony Aikens said about requests from Housing Authority Executive Director Debbie Cook that he rectify a problem about board member terms of service. "... I would hope that two of the new members would work with her for the betterment of the community up there."
The Housing Authority, along with members of the previous board, previously filed a lawsuit against Aikens, and Judge Frank Williams allowed Aikens' three appointments — Cheri Brown, Frank Hahn and Larry Hardison — to stand until the most recent hearing.
Authority members and co-plaintiffs Linda Garner, Deloris McAmis, Mary A. Brown and Jeff Ward, a resident commissioner, were present for the hearing this week with Ott McGill absent. During the daylong series of testimony from board members and Lenoir City officials, the plaintiff's case centered around a chart that tracked the service of present and former authority members.
Plaintiff attorney Mike Kelley said the chart was based on documents obtained from the city recorder/treasurer's office and appointment certificates. Kelley said Cook's intention all along was to piece together the correct terms for each of the commissioners.
"She's a staff person who was trying to do her best," Kelley said. "I'm prepared to defend my chart with every piece of paper one at a time. ... I'm prepared to do that because the documents speak for themselves."
Bobby Johnson Jr. said in a deposition presented to the court that during his time as recorder/treasurer in 2010, housing authority records fell into disarray and that he would "not be surprised" if some documents were misfiled.
In questioning current recorder/treasurer Jim Wilburn, Kelley confirmed that the city has no housing authority records before 1987, and a gap also exists between 1998-2008.
Former Mayor Matt Brookshire appointed the former housing authority board but three of the members were set to expire in 2015. State law mandates that the terms be staggered.
Earlier in the day, both sides were given an opportunity to rectify the board terms but after numerous attempts they could not come to an agreement. The formal trial began just after lunch and concluded about 7:30 p.m.
Williams said after listening to testimony and arguments from Kelley and the co-plaintiffs, he did not have a clearer picture of the correct terms of service.
"What I did was essentially give to the plaintiffs the opportunity through their executive director to go through and study the records and to clear it up for me so that we didn't have to spend the time we've spent today," Williams said. "... I gave them the opportunity to show me from the records how things ought to be and what I have seen has not been convincing at all."
Williams kept Ward on the board and removed Garner and McGill. Since Ward and Mary Brown's terms were set to expire in 2015, Williams changed Mary Brown's expiration to 2014.
After the trial, Kelley said he had "mixed" thoughts. "The unfortunate thing here is that there was an error made by the previous administration when they made three terms that ended in the same year, and it's unfortunate that this had to be resolved by court."