01/08/08 — SBI clears Pikeville town clerk

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SBI clears Pikeville town clerk

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 8, 2008 2:20 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Investigators have completely cleared Town Clerk Kathie Fields of allegations of financial irregularities, officials said Monday night.

Mrs. Fields had already been reinstated as the Pikeville town clerk, before an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and other authorities was completed.

Commissioner Lyman Galloway called reinstating Mrs. Fields before the investigation was finished a "calculated risk."

That risk proved to work out in favor of town commissioners who supported her return, including Galloway, the town's mayor and Commissioner Dennis Lewis, among others.

Mrs. Fields was welcomed back by Mayor Herbert Sieger, who said that Mrs. Fields had stacks of paperwork and other duties to attend to.

"I do want to caution everyone though, that right at the moment, she's got an awful lot of work to do," Sieger said. "So I would ask you (townspeople) to come in and do your business and get out."

Sieger said Dean Cunningham of the North Carolina Local Government Commission and other authorities told him that Mrs. Fields had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The mayor said the town's organizational structure would be examined to prevent further problems, and said the suspension and investigation itself should have been handled differently by town officials.

"In fact, anything that was done improperly, was done because of the board's failure to separate powers, and that became the board's responsibility," Sieger said.

A crowd of about 40 people attended Monday's meeting and occasionally applauded as commissioners and the mayor explained the details of Mrs. Fields' exoneration.

Lewis has said he believes the investigation came about as a result of a "vendetta" against the cleared town clerk, calling a previous audit and the investigation "witch hunts."

"The town has suffered because of this. The citizens of Pikeville have suffered in more ways than they know. The taxpayers of North Carolina have suffered. I cannot tell you the reason that this evil has transpired, but this evil has failed," Lewis said.

The investigation began after former Town Administrator Richard Lock gave Mrs. Fields a suspension letter. Lewis has said suspending the clerk was outside the scope of Lock's duties.

Lock has since been fired by town commissioners, which Mayor Herbert Sieger said had nothing to do with Mrs. Fields' suspension. The mayor said Lock had left the town hall unattended, among other failures to perform his duties as administrator.

Lewis gave the newspaper a copy of Lock's suspension letter, dated Nov. 20.

"You are being suspended for conduct unbecoming a public officer or employee, with full pay for an unlimited time until an (investigation) can be completed," the letter states.

Lewis said commissioners were forbidden from speaking about problems with specific personnel, but said somewhat cryptically that he would "give (citizens and news media) pieces of the puzzle" that led to the suspension.

Sieger asked Mrs. Fields if she had anything to say to the audience after her exoneration was announced.

Mrs. Fields shook her head no, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Town Commissioner Edith McClenny said she was concerned town officials had reinstated Mrs. Fields before an official report about the investigation had been returned.

"Reinstating her before we got our official report back blew my mind," Mrs. McClenny said.