By Ron Clayton Correspondent
ATHENS, Tenn. — A candidate for McMinn County Circuit Court clerk believes she has been put on leave without pay from her job because she is running against her boss, Norma Corn White.
Rhonda Cooley, who has worked for the office for eight years, said Tuesday she filed a candidate petition in January while on medical leave. She said she was planning to return to work early this month after her doctor released her. But she said she got a notice Feb. 27 from Mrs. White that read, "You are on unpaid leave from the office of Circuit Court Clerk indefinitely."
Mrs. White said Tuesday that she did place Ms. Cooley on leave. She declined to discuss the reason other than to say it was unrelated to the campaign.
"I don’t have a time set when she can come back. But this has nothing to do with politics," Mrs. White said.
Ms. Cooley said she learned in January that Mrs. White’s niece, who also works in the office, had picked up a candidate petition to run for Circuit Court Clerk.
Ms. Cooley said she believed that Mrs. White, who has held the position for almost 50 years, had decided not to run for reelection.
"The next morning I went to the courthouse, and Norma (White) told me she wasn’t running," Ms. Cooley said. She said she told Mrs. White that she would be a candidate.
After Ms. Cooley filed her petition, she said, Mrs. White qualified to run for re-election and the niece did not file for the race.
Mrs. White said she told Ms. Cooley she hadn’t decided whether she would run, not that she wouldn’t be a candidate.
Then Ms. Cooley received notice from Mrs. White that she had been placed on leave.
Now, because she was not given a date to return, Ms. Cooley said she considers herself fired and has filed a state unemployment claim.
"If she called me to come back, I would come back," Ms. Cooley said.
Both women are seeking the Republican nomination in the May 2 primary election along with Shelby Davis. Ms. Davis, a retired driver’s license bureau worker, has lost to Mrs. White twice before, records show.
There are no Democratic candidates for the seat, according to election commission records.
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