Polk County Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Keith was cleared of criminal wrongdoing after a grand jury decided not to issue an indictment in a case stemming from a Tennessee comptroller's office investigation.
The case was presented to the grand jury Monday by Blount County District Attorney Ryan Desmond.
"The grand jury did not return an indictment," Desmond said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I sent a letter to the comptroller's office closing the investigation based on the actions of the grand jury. It was closed as of yesterday."
Keith told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday she had just learned the comptroller's investigation case against her went before the grand jury and no indictment was issued. Keith said she didn't know the investigation was closed but was aware of the comptroller's report. She said she flatly disagrees with its allegations.
"This is all false information," Keith said in an email. "I have never and will never intentionally or knowingly deceive my county or fellow citizens. I was just made aware this case on Tuesday, when the news called my office inquiring about it."
Keith did not offer any other comments on the case.
Keith was accused in the state agency's investigative report of allowing seven employees in her office to submit time sheets claiming they worked 40 hours per week while she regularly gave them each a day off each week, comptroller's investigators said in a statement issued Tuesday. Keith closed the office for one hour during lunch each weekday prior to January 2022 and still paid employees for the time, the statement said.
The investigation in Keith's office was noted in a comptroller's audit performed in March in Polk County.
"At the direction of the clerk, the employees only regularly worked 28 hours per week," investigators said.
Comptroller's office investigators said the county's personnel policy states that a full-time employee must work at least 32 hours per week to receive annual leave, sick leave, compensatory time and an option for insurance coverage by the county.
The comptroller's investigative report broke down all the benefits the seven employees received but had not earned. Time not worked totaled $27,024; unsupported comp time, $1,943; annual leave taken, $358; sick leave taken, $347; and insurance provided $93,391; for a total of $123,065.
The seven employees also improperly received service credits with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, investigators said. Because the employees were regularly working only 28 hours per week, they were not entitled to receive full-time service credits with the system.
In her correspondence Wednesday, Keith did not say how she planned to address findings and overpayments identified in the investigation.
Polk County Executive Robby Hatcher said in a phone interview he knew the Blount County District Attorney's Office was handling the case, but he didn't know the case had been presented to the grand jury.
Hatcher wasn't sure what to make of the situation, and he was unsure what comes next as far as any restitution of the $123,000 was concerned, he said. The effect on benefits for the employees involved is another challenging matter, so there were some discussions to be had with county leaders, Hatcher said.
"I just don't know," Hatcher said when asked about the next step.