East Ridge Judge Arvin Reingold charged Thursday night that a clash between City Manager Tim Gobble and longtime court clerk JoAnn Thomas led to a "sudden" call for an elected city court clerk.
Judge Reingold said a resolution calling for a special election to name an interim clerk "was brought about for one reason and one reason alone." He said that was "a shouting match" between Mr. Gobble and Ms. Thomas over an armed robbery case in which Mr. Gobble's daughter was one of the victims. He said other expressed reasons "are a smokescreen."
The judge, who was called down several times by Mayor Brent Lambert and finally directed to sit down, opened his barrage by saying, "I have never heard so much double talk and gibberish in my life" on explanations from Mr. Gobble and City Attorney John Anderson on the need for the elected clerk.
The council, with Vice Mayor Larry Sewell absent, voted 2-2 on the issue. Mayor Lambert and Darwin Branam were in favor and Council members Jim Bethune and Denny Manning opposed. The mayor said the vote would roll over to the next meeting when all five members are expected.
It calls for a special election possibly next March, which Mr. Gobble said would cost about $10,000. He said the new clerk might make around $52,000 - the amount paid city directors. Judge Reingold said that would be about $20,000 more than Ms. Thomas makes. It would be up to the City Council to set the exact pay.
The way the ordinance is written, Ms. Thomas would not be able to run. It requires the clerk to live in East Ridge. She lives in Georgia.
Mr. Gobble and attorney Anderson said both an opinion from the state attorney general and from the Municipal Technical Assistance Service back the city having an elected court clerk, who would serve for four years beginning with an election in August 2014.
Mr. Gobble said some $1 million in court fines are uncollected, and Councilman Branam said the clerk's office has not turned over a list of those who owe the fines to a collection agency though ordered to do so. He said that is "insubordination."
Judge Reingold said the list could be ready "in the morning." He said he put out word that anyone with concerns about the operation of the clerk's office could call him. "I haven't gotten the first call," he said.
Councilman Bethune said, "I want to know what if this has been going on for a year and a half we all of a sudden bring it up now."
Councilman Manning said those in the clerk's office are "great workers doing a great job. We should back off and leave it alone."
Judge Reingold said the city officials "should look into what is behind all this and deal out justice, fairness and equity."
He told Attorney Anderson, "You are not just the attorney for the mayor and the city manager. You are the attorney for the people of East Ridge. You have an accountability to the citizens of East Ridge."