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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Neal Pinkston speaks during the district attorney debate at the Red Stone Estates senior living facility on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2022.

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's brother-in-law, Kerry Clewell, will come off the county's payroll effective May 17, according to a memo by a county official.

The memo was written by Lee Brouner, county administrator of finance, amid a nearly yearlong controversy over nepotism in the DA's office. It makes no mention of the Republican prosecutor's wife, Melydia Clewell, whom Pinkston hired in 2015 and married in 2019.

Melydia Clewell, a former television journalist, started as a public information officer for the office and was later named chief of staff. Her brother, Kerry, was hired as an investigator.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, R-East Brainerd, expressed frustration Monday that no action is apparently being taken on Melydia Clewell.

"This inaction on the part of [District Attorney General] Pinkston is in direct defiance of instructions handed down by the state attorney general in a letter to DA Pinkston dated Feb. 23, 2022, instructing him to terminate Ms. Pinkston's employment with the DA's office on or before April 23, 2022," Boyd wrote. "The taxpayers of Hamilton County have tolerated DA Pinkston's violation of Tennessee's nepotism laws long enough. Action needs to be taken to remove Ms. Pinkston from the DA's payroll immediately."

The latest blowup in the nearly yearlong controversy over alleged nepotism in the district attorney's office comes as Pinkston's political career is under threat by challenger Coty Wamp in the May 3 Republican primary. Early voting in the contest has been underway for days and ends Thursday.

Earlier Monday, Brouner responded by email to questions posed by Boyd, who questioned whether the Clewells had been removed from the county payroll, citing what Boyd believes was a 60-day deadline ending April 23 for them to be removed from the public payroll. They have been on paid leave since the time of the February letters from the state comptroller and attorney general.

"[T]he DA's office under the direction of [District Attorney General] Neal Pinkston was to have terminated the employment of both his wife, Ms. Melydia Clewell-Pinkston, and his brother-in-law, Mr. K. Clewell, on or before April 23, 2022, due to 'violation of the Tennessee State Employees Uniform Nepotism Policy Act,'" Boyd wrote.

"Do you have confirmation that their employment in the District 11-DA's office has actually been terminated and are no longer on the state or county payrolls of the District 11-DA's office?" Boyd then asked.

Replied Brouner: "As of this morning, both Melydia Clewell-Pinkston and Kerry Clewell are on the county payroll. Human Resources (HR) received information this morning to terminate Kerry Clewell's employment effective May 17, 2022. Neither HR nor Payroll has received any information relative to a change in employment status for Melydia Clewell."

 

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In a statement, Pinkston's office disputed Boyd's interpretation of the 60-day deadline ending on April 23.

"Boyd is mistaken. We have 60 business days to resolve the issues. Kerry Clewell has submitted his resignation and will be leaving on May 17th. Ms. Clewell continues to explore her options," the statement reads.

In his letter earlier this year, Slatery cited Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower's office's just-finished investigation in February that found the continued employment of Melydia Clewell and the hiring of her brother violated the Tennessee State Employees Uniform Nepotism Policy Act.

At the time, Slatery wrote Pinkston that the DA's office had received an inquiry from a legislator about the possible violation of the act.

"After this inquiry," Slatery's letter continued, "the [District Attorney General's] Office transferred your wife and brother-in-law from state-funded to county-funded positions; their job titles and duties remained the same, and both employees remained in your direct line of supervision. I understand you may have decided to make them county-funded employees based on the belief that the act does not apply to county-funded employees in a district attorney general's office. This is incorrect."

Slatery stated the act provides that a "state employee" is any person employed by a governmental entity, which includes the offices of district attorneys general.

Hours after Mumpower's investigatory report was released earlier this year, Pinkston announced the two employees had been put on leave and that he was "reviewing the recommendations of the comptroller's office and may have additional comments at a later date."

Boyd said in his email to officeholders and others, "I look forward to understanding what actions will be taken by the state to force DA Pinkston to comply with state nepotism law."

Efforts Monday afternoon to reach Mike Dunne, spokesperson for Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, were unsuccessful.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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