"It's never wrong to make sure the person who robbed your daughter at gunpoint is prosecuted. It is never wrong to stand up for the proper administration and management of the office you oversee to make sure those responsible for the proper notification of witnesses and detectives/officers for court do their job correctly, which in this case they clearly did not. If the clerk was this incompetent in this case, how many others are there where the same incompetence has been demonstrated?"
Source: City of East Ridge Facebook page
As a man and woman go before East Ridge City Court tonight to face theft charges, the questions surrounding their case are not just about their guilt or innocence, but about how the city's government system is supposed to work.
Namely: How much involvement can East Ridge's city manager have in a court case -- especially if the victim is the his daughter?
The questions were raised after City Manager Tim Gobble suspended the city's court clerk and reprimanded two other court employees over how his daughter's case was handled.
Gobble's daughter and her boyfriend were robbed at gunpoint in a church parking lot the night of Sept. 3. Allen Horton, 30, and Brandi King, 28, were arrested shortly after the incident and have both been charged with felony theft and aggravated theft.
The preliminary hearing for the two is scheduled for tonight, but it comes after a month of drama in the wake of Gobble's decision to suspend Court Clerk JoAnn Thomas after the two had a heated argument involving the scheduling of his daughter's case.
Gobble contends the clerk's office did not give his daughter proper notice after moving the case to a new date, and that police officers overheard Thomas making statements about court cases needing to be dismissed when witnesses weren't present.
He confronted Thomas and demanded publicly that she meet with him in his office the next day. She refused, saying Gobble needed to come to her office. After that, Gobble issued Thomas a weeklong, unpaid suspension.
A week later, Gobble suspended two other court employees after they did not send him a formal confirmation about whether his daughter would have to be at court Sept. 11.
"That was a not a request, but a directive," Gobble wrote in the letter of reprimand. The failure to send the confirmation was "a willful deliberate act of subordination," he said.
Gobble said his decision to use his official position to issue such a "directive" is appropriate, even though the average citizen cannot use that kind of leverage with the clerk's office.
"If this is how they're acting with the city manager, how are they acting with citizens every day?" asked Gobble, who is the former sheriff of Bradley County.
The clerk's office declined to comment on Monday.
Gobble has publicly defended his actions, even using the city's official Facebook page to decry the clerk's "incompetence" and "laziness."
The incident involving his daughter was "just a sliver" of administrative problems he has detected at the clerk's office, he said. Since the reprimands were issued, he has launched two internal investigations of the office, both about matters unrelated to his daughter.
While Gobble said the city's charter clearly gives him the authority to oversee the court clerk's office, state officials have been less black-and-white on the issue. State law states that the City Council can set salaries for court employees, but the judge is authorized to "appoint, promote, suspend, remove" court employees.
Officials with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service said Monday they were evaluating the matter and could not comment.
East Ridge City Court Judge Arvin Reingold said Monday he could not comment about the matter.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.