Wilson County Circuit Clerk Linda Neal admits she’s been out of work quite a bit lately, and access records to her offices, along with a Wilson County judge, verify that fact.
The Democrat received a report of key card swipes of all employees at Neal’s offices through an open records request that showed Neal’s entry card was used six times on two days between Nov. 1 and May 19.
The report showed Neal’s card was used April 14 at 2:20 p.m. and 2:41 p.m. at the criminal office and again at 2:24 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. at the general sessions office. The report also showed Neal’s card was used Feb. 13 at 4:20 p.m. and 4:32 p.m.
The key cards are given to certain county employees to be used to enter court buildings, including Neal’s three offices in Lebanon. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Department keeps a log of all county personnel who enter the buildings using the key cards.
General Sessions Court Judge John Gwin said Neal’s presence at the office where he also works is rare.
“It’s troublesome to me, personally,” Gwin said. “I don’t know what the circumstances are behind it. In terms of how much I have seen her at the office here this year, the answer is about an hour.”
But Gwin said it’s business as usual at the circuit clerk’s office.
“The girls in that office show up on time,” he said. “They work hard and sometimes stay late. My work is getting done and has been done better than it has been in quite some time. The girls just can’t get questions answered because she’s just never there.
It’s a shame, and it’s just not right as for taxpayers.”
General Sessions Court Judge Barry Tatum would not talk about Neal’s work attendance specifically, but he said the key card system works.
“Judge Hamilton and I work at [one] building,” Tatum said. “Judge Gwin works at the other building. I’m not a monitor at the door, but the sheriff’s department’s key card system records who comes into the building, and it works well. It tracks who shows up and when and how long.
“We, as elected officials, take an oath to serve the public, be available and work hard. When something like this happens, as your investigation seems to indicate, it hurts all elected officials and makes them look bad.”
Neal admitted she’s taking some time off and said it’s for an important reason.
“I have a sick daughter, and I am spending time with her,” Neal said. “I don’t care what anybody says. My family comes first, and I will be with my family when they are sick. And that office can go to [expletive].”
Neal said her daughter, who is in her 40s, suffers from complications from a past procedure.
“Five years ago, she had a very serious surgery,” Neal said. “She had a very vital organ removed from her body, and it has flared up again. I almost lost her five years ago. Nobody is going to take away my time to spend with my sick child.”
Neal also confirmed she took a weeklong vacation to the Caribbean during the end of May.
“I went on vacation to Aruba,” Neal said. “My daughter got to the point where I could leave, and I took a trip. My husband was kind enough to be with my daughter.”
Though Neal admits she hasn’t been at work as much lately, she contends the reports that show her in the office only two days since November are wrong.
“Those records have to be wrong, but I have certainly been there more than twice this year,” she said. “It’s not going to register if someone else lets me in the back door.
“People don’t realize I can do four hours of work at home. You don’t know how many phone calls I receive before I even go to work. I have made no bones about whether I work or whether I don’t. I’m not trying to keep it a secret.”
Neal said she sometimes has office workers meet her in the parking lot with documents when she feels she’s not presentable for the office after she’s stayed with her daughter.
“I have worked three days this week,” Neal said. “My concern is my daughter, not that [expletive] office.
“I’m not putting in 40 hours a week. A lot of times I will be in one office and the other offices not know it. But I check my messages every day.
“I know my administration made a difference in that office, and I have good people in that office with me. I haven’t put down a single rule in that office for those ladies to follow that I wouldn’t do myself.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have to take family medical leave to take time off. I get a paycheck whether I’m at work or not. But I’m not out playing golf, building a barn or cutting hay. I’m taking care of a sick child.”
Neal said she believes her work attendance was brought to light by members of the “good ole boy system” and feels as if she’s a target of criticism.
“I know that the people who are after me are not going to leave me alone until I retire,” she said. “I have been taking some time off, more often than usual. I don’t know who is trying to cause trouble for me.
“It seems to me that other office holders can do whatever they want and not a [expletive] thing happens to them.
“They are getting into my personal life, and they will get what they deserve.
“I dare them to come and say that to my face that I can’t take time off. My child is due my time.”
She said despite her absence, work remains on task in her office.
“I am taking time off, more time off than I have in recent years,” she said. “But I am checking in at the office and work is getting done.
“I was elected to serve. I’m going to serve out my term, because I am still working, and my office can get ahold of me 24-7, and they do. I wouldn’t be able to take a lot of time off had it not been for the people in that office knowing what they do, doing it well and to my expectations.”
According to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, county elected officials are held accountable by the citizens they serve and no one else in terms of the amount of work they do.
Neal agreed. She said she didn’t have plans to leave before her term was finished in August.
“That’s something elected officials don’t have to do,” Neal said. “I have worked my butt off in that office, weekends, nights and using very little sick time.
“Thank God I will be out of that office in two months and they can pick on someone else.”
Four candidates – Bud Brandon, Jeff Dickson, Felicia Plumlee Hale and Debbie Moss – are currently running for circuit clerk. Election Day is set for Aug. 7, and early voting starts July 18 and ends Aug. 2 in Wilson County.