By Steve Hunley

Well, it looks like the 2014 election season has already begun.

The flap about innocent folks being arrested without cause is being laid at the doorstep of Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey by much of the local media. They have likely been fed this information by a disgruntled (with McCroskey) prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office and some disgruntled former employees. The timing of these allegations not coincidentally coincides with the announcement by Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond that he is running for Criminal Court Clerk in 2014.

That would explain Hammond being incessantly interviewed by local TV stations, as well as his interest in fanning the flames. Hammond says he will bring his own “expertise” to the office. Of course Mike Hammond has no real expertise to bring to the Criminal Court Clerk’s office. Hammond is more a personality than an experienced businessman or manager. His tenure as a member of the Knox County Commission has been more about jumping on every media report or in front of every camera to maximize his own exposure than a record of real accomplishment.

Some have hysterically cried if someone could be arrested without cause, it could happen to anyone. In fact, it absolutely could not. Despite Hammond-friendly media stories to the contrary, every one of these cases involves people who have been arrested before and convicted. These cases involve people who owe Knox County money for fees involving their court cases. The Criminal Court Clerk has no authority to arrest a field mouse, much less a person. Sheriff Jimmy “J. J.” Jones has been quick to try and explain neither he nor his office is involved in any of the mistakes. Rather than trying to assess blame, everyone would be better off by simply sitting down and correcting the problem, if one really exists.

Last year the Criminal Court Clerk processed approximately 70,000 cases and five, nineteen or whatever number some sensationalist TV reporter comes up with is but a small fraction of a fraction and the fact is there is always the possibility of an honest mistake. To put it plain and simple in mathematical terms, it is .0002714 of one percent. And, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that once Ms. McCroskey gets to the bottom of all this, it will turn out to be an even smaller number, maybe even approaching 0%. I have known Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey for many years and I can assure you that McCroskey is one of the few public officials who will readily acknowledge a mistake and immediately move to correct it. Unlike many other politicians, who simply want to point fingers at everybody else, Joy McCroskey is a hard-worker and a fine public servant. She has never been one for self-promotion; she just focuses on her job.

County Commission Chairman Brad Anders has summoned Ms. McCroskey to appear before the Commission today. I believe Ms. McCroskey will appear before Commission and I believe she will have answers for them. But when Ms. McCroskey does appear, Mike Hammond should immediately recuse himself and leave the podium, because having announced his candidacy for McCroskey’s office,  for him to participate, in my opinion, would be a conflict of interest.

And speaking of Hammond, hold on to your hat. Hammond says he will try and keep any mistake from happening by improving technology in the Criminal Court Clerk’s office, yet the County Commission has regularly cut the Clerk’s budget. Ms. McCroskey would have liked to improve the technology as well, but the Commission, including Hammond, kept reducing her budget.  According to McCroskey, she even had a difficult time getting new office chairs to replace some that were falling apart and unsafe.

In terms of revenue, the Criminal Court Clerk’s office must operate off the fees it collects, which has been increasingly difficult since the Tennessee General Assembly passed “tort reform,” which allows people to claim they are indigent, therefore exempt from paying any kind of court fees. Keep that in mind when Hammond tries to tell you he will run the office like a business. What business ever had a 400% increase in the number of transactions it had to perform, do it with the same number of employees and couldn’t charge anything for it as long as someone says they’re indigent? Very few.

The simple fact is Mike Hammond is running, not to serve the public, but because he wants a job that pays well. Hammond was ready to give up public service entirely when he applied to take Gloria Ray’s place at the Sports Corporation, which carried a fat salary with it as well. Hammond is looking for a lucrative place to land and his service on the County Commission was largely as a rubber stamp for former Mayor Mike Ragsdale and Superintendent of Schools Jim McIntyre. It was Mike Hammond who, when trying to find the money to fund McIntyre’s enormous budget request, suggested increasing BOTH the sales and property taxes. Hammond was stopped only when an outraged public made it clear they would not tolerate any such tax increases.

No pun intended, but to add insult to injury, the Sentinel and other media outlets are picking at Ms. McCroskey for having missed some work. They all failed to report the fact that she had to endure two major surgeries, one of which involved her spine. One would like to think that when he or she is sick or stricken with a grave illness or condition folks would be considerate and that our job would be there when we recover. Yet then again, vultures and jackals are not known for being especially considerate.

Hammond’s opportunism is not and will never be expertise!