published Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Three vie for Hamilton Circuit Court Clerk post

KEY DATES

Important dates for the Hamilton County primaries:

• Deadline to register to vote: Monday

• Absentee ballot request deadline: April 29

• Early voting: April 16 - May 1

• County primary: May 6

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories about contested races in the May 6 Hamilton County primary election.

A Hamilton County commissioner, a lawman and a lawyer are vying for the soon-to-be vacated Circuit Court Clerk post. The commissioner has name recognition on his side, and both of his opponents have to address some political baggage.

District 7 County Commissioner Larry Henry made headlines in September 2013, when he announced he would step down after a 12-year run on the commission to seek the clerk job. He later was joined in February by Hamilton County Sheriff Deputy Capt. Ron Parson and Lisa Bowman, an attorney.

Parson has been in headlines for harassment complaints against him when he ran the county jail — complaints that led to a demotion. And Bowman has a hefty tax debt to pay down.

Whoever wins support from Republicans in the May 6 local primary will likely breeze through the August election. No Democrat is seeking the job.

There is no incumbent, because Circuit Court Clerk Paula Thompson announced she would retire after her current term.

On Tuesday, Henry, who is retired, said he hopes to bring his experience from 40 years in the private sector and more than a decade on the commission to bear in the clerk’s office. Along with managing 15 to 25 employees at any given time in his career, Henry said he has overseen 12 budgets for the county — and for five he served as the commission’s chairman.

He said the clerk’s office isn’t a policy making office. Most of its guidelines and rules come from the legislature and the courts. Running the office comes down to management, he said.

“What is needed to run the clerk’s office are management skills. Those skills only come through experience, and I have those skills,” he said.

Citing recent budget troubles in the office, Henry said he wants to assess its more than 40 employees and look into electronic filing options to increase efficiency. The clerk’s budget is $1.5 million.

Also, if elected, Henry’s county pay would go from $27,913 as a commissioner to $103,795, the state-set salary of circuit court clerks.

Bowman says she’s the most qualified candidate for the job, because she already deals with the circuit court clerk’s office daily. The Soddy-Daisy resident started as a paralegal and worked her way through night law school to get her degree.

“I’ve been working with them from paralegal up through becoming a lawyer. The expertise I bring to the table is complete knowledge of how the courts work,” she said. “I could sit in any chair in any job. If a legal question comes up, I can answer it.”

Bowman said Tuesday the tax liens on her property were a result of an accounting issue, which she reported in 2011 when she was first made aware of the debt.

According to records from the county Register’s office, the Internal Revenue Service has filed more than $231,000 in liens on her Soddy-Daisy home at 1522 Hotwater Road. According to the lien records, Bowman did not pay federal income taxes from 2006 to 2011. According to county property records, the property is valued at $221,900.

“The tax liens were a result of an audit that is still ongoing, where basically I was relying on someone else to handle my books. But I take full responsibility for the taxes, and I’m making monthly payments to correct it,” she said. “I went to [the IRS] voluntarily and submitted all the paperwork myself. They did not come to me.”

Bowman said she did not want to accuse anyone of wrongdoing and just said she was paying the debt.

Parson, a 42-year veteran of law enforcement, said Tuesday he is going for the job to make the office more user friendly and more efficient. Parson now oversees courthouse security and serving of civil warrants for the sheriff’s office.

“I have served civil process. I’ve served orders of protection. I know how those work,” Parson said.

If elected, Parson said he, too, would spend some time assessing the office, and then look at improving technology and reducing staff.

“There has been a lot of controversy about salaries Ms. Thompson has paid her employees. And those are good jobs. If I get this job, I’d go in there and see if there is a possibility of some folks leaving for retirement, or just deciding to move on,” Parson said.

Parson also said he’s no stranger to budgets. When he ran the jail for the sheriff’s office, he managed a $10 million budget.

But he’s also no stranger to controversy.

Last year, Parson was demoted from deputy chief to his current rank after an internal investigation found he had made numerous offensive or harassing comments to more than 20 of his subordinates at the jail.

Parson said Tuesday he was just put in a difficult position and never intended to offend anyone.

“I did get demoted. I didn’t fight the situation. The sheriff had made some comments about me talking to employees at the jail about their weight,” he said.

Parson said he spoke to some employees about reducing their weight if they intended to one day go to patrol. And he “talked to the wrong employee” about it, he said. After one employee filed a complaint, others followed suit, he said.

“It never did happen the way it was wrote. I just had no way to defend that. How do you fight that?” Parson said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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