published Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Pikeville mayor still on job after arrest

Pikeville, Tenn., Mayor Greg Johnson
Pikeville, Tenn., Mayor Greg Johnson
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Greg Johnson indictment
Greg Johnson indictment

Pikeville, Tenn., Mayor Greg Johnson still is manning his post at City Hall while officials study options in the wake of his arrest last month on four counts of official misconduct and theft over $60,000.

Even though Johnson is keeping office hours, according to City Hall staff and City Attorney Ed Boring, he did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

Johnson's attorney, Steve Greer, has said the mayor is under no requirement to step down.

Boring said Wednesday that city officials' hands are tied until Johnson's criminal case is resolved.

He said Johnson will continue to collect his pay even if he doesn't show up for work.

"He's an elected official. He can 'not show up' and there's not a whole lot we can do," Boring said.

"We're hoping for a quick resolution to the criminal charges," he said. "If he's found guilty, he must leave office."

City officials can't restrict Johnson's access to city money because "he still has the statutory powers given to him," Boring said.

But town policies require a second signature on checks to safeguard taxpayer funds, he said.

Johnson's charges are the result of an investigation launched in January by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's office that alleges the mayor spent more than $177,000 in taxpayer funds for his own benefit. The probe began after complaints to the district attorney's office.

According to court records and 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor, the first misconduct count stems from the 2010 purchase of 10 "salvaged" automobiles for $109,900 from a car dealership in Alabama.

In a second misconduct count, Johnson spent $15,900 in November 2010 on another vehicle he didn't title to the town but "converted to his own use," records state.

A third misconduct allegation tallies another $35,599 in payments to Johnson between July 2010 and February 2012 for nonexistent health insurance premiums, and a fourth count stems from $16,200 in payments during the same period for a nonexistent "vehicle allowance," records show.

The class B felony theft charge stems from the combined funds in the misconduct counts, $177,599, Taylor said.

Johnson also holds a seat on the Bledsoe County Commission.

County Mayor Bobby Collier said the commission's position is the same as the city's as far as Johnson's place on the panel is concerned.

"We're just waiting on the court to make a decision, and we'll abide by that," Collier said Wednesday.

This is not Johnson's first run-in with the law while in public office, records show.

When he was serving his second term as the county's Circuit Court clerk more than 20 years ago, he was charged with phoning in bomb threats during a second-degree murder trial in November 1990, during a murder trial in January 1990 and twice during a rape and incest trial in February 1991, according to Bledsonian-Banner newspaper archives. Johnson was arrested Feb. 5, 1991, after being caught on the phone making the bomb threat.

Banner archives state that Johnson continued to receive his pay until he officially resigned in May 1991 as a condition of receiving pretrial diversion, and he was ordered not to seek re-election to that post and to undergo psychiatric treatment and counseling to meet diversion requirements.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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