Data, interviews, surveillance raise questions about Cumberland court clerk's attendance
Posted May 3, 2016
Fayetteville, N.C. — The county clerk’s office is the heartbeat of the court system. In Cumberland County, more than 80 employees take care of the public’s business, but an 18-month investigation that includes data, interviews and surveillance raises questions about how much time Clerk of Superior Court Kim Tucker spends at the office.
Data provided by the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, which handles security at the courthouse, shows Tucker's key card was used to access the parking garage or secure courthouse doors or elevators on only 73 of the 163 work days that were reviewed – a 44 percent attendance rate. The data doesn't show how long she was at the courthouse on each occasion.
By comparison, key code data shows Wake County's court clerk was at that county's courthouse 77 percent of the time during the same period.
"I feel like you should work as much as I work. If I work five days out of the week, you need to work five days out of the week," Cumberland County resident Annesia Harrington said.
Harrington and other taxpayers are upset by the notion that Tucker is collecting a $114,958 annual salary, plus $16,554 in state longevity pay, but may not put in a 40-hour work week at the office.
"I expect, if you're going to get that kind of good-paying job, you need to go do it. It's pretty much as simple as that," business owner Randy Gabbert said.
Tucker spoke extensively with WRAL Investigates off the record, but she declined to comment for the record on her attendance record. On Tuesday, she sent a letter to an attorney for WRAL News to defend her schedule and work ethic.
"There's a very real difference between whether I am subjectively 'visible' at the courthouse at any given time on any given day and whether I am at work," she wrote in the letter.
Tucker served as a trial court administrator for five years and as a District Court judge for more than 15 years before being appointed court clerk in 2013. She ran unopposed for the post the following year and was elected to a four-year term.
In addition to overseeing all of the criminal and civil court files, court clerks in North Carolina receive and disburse money collected through court fees and fines, serve as probate judges for people's wills and estates and handle adoptions, competency hearings, foreclosures and condemnation proceedings.
The sheriff's office provided nine months of courthouse entry data, three months from each of 2014, 2015 and 2016. Officials said a lightning strike in July 2014 destroyed all previous data, and after the system was replaced, they said data is automatically deleted after 90 days.
During some months, Tucker's key card was rarely used – five days in August 2014, four days the following month, seven days in February 2015 and eight days this past February, for example. The sheriff's office noted that the entry records are just a snapshot and that Tucker could have used public parking instead of her reserved space in the garage and gone into the courthouse through public entrances, which are not recorded, or through doors opened by other people.
Courthouse entry data "is not a reliable indicator of presence or lack thereof," Tucker wrote in her letter.
A handful of legal professionals who routinely do business in the Cumberland County Courthouse said, however, that they rarely see Tucker there.
WRAL Investigates went to Fayetteville dozens of times during work hours over the past 18 months and found her car parked at her house on most trips. When her car wasn't at the house, WRAL staff went to the courthouse but never saw Tucker in her office or in the hallways there.
Tucker could make calls, send emails, work on policies and prepare documents and presentations from home, but the state Administrative Office of the Courts said she doesn't have a program in her home, like many other court officials do, that would give her remote access to court records.
Tucker stated in her letter that she is "very well equipped to do office work remotely" and that she regularly travels to work in different cars.
Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons, who oversees Tucker, didn't respond to requests for comment about her.
Two teams of private investigators hired by a concerned citizen put Tucker's home under surveillance and monitored her comings and goings on and off for nearly two months last year and for two weeks recently.
"I think citizens have an expectation that an elected official will go to work and be at work during normal working hours," said an investigator, who asked not to be identified. "Most of the time, it was not (happening)."
State statutes don't spell out how many hours an elected official in North Carolina must be on the job, only that officials cannot neglect their duties. Most of the people contacted by WRAL Investigates said the clerk's office is getting the public's work done. Still, taxpayers said, the person running the office needs to be in the office.
"I'm paying your salary. I work hard for my money. You should work hard for my money, too," Harrington said.