Jimmy “J.J.” Jones almost always gets his way – even when he’s flat out wrong. The current sheriff and announced candidate for Knox County mayor has succeeded in getting his new procurement director under the Sheriff’s Office Merit System Council.
Hugh Holt got merit system protection, even though the 3-member council had decided in December to defer Jones’ request until a new sheriff is elected in 2018.
Jim Jennings, who chairs the council, confirmed Monday that Holt was approved upon advice of Myers Morton, deputy law director. “He told us that the sheriff has the authority to create positions, and he said it is the sheriff’s prerogative (to classify his hires under the merit system).
“Our role is to hear (discipline or termination) grievances.”
Morton was present in December and did not object when the council deferred action on Jones’ request. And his latest ruling begs the question: If the merit board doesn’t have the authority to defer or deny a request, why put it on the agenda?
Merit System Council members – appointed by Knox County Commission – are Jennings, Roy Kruse and Jim Wright Jr. In December, Wright was an alternate and the board chair was Bill Lindsey of Farragut.
Lindsey argued that Holt’s salary would be bad for morale in a department where “people put their life on the line and have years of service,” but earn much less. Deputies start as corrections officers, earning just over $30,000 annually.
Jones hired Holt, a golfing buddy, for $500 more than he made as procurement director for Knox County, paying him more than any other employee including the chief deputy.
Holt joined Knox County in 1987 and advanced to head of purchasing. In that role, he oversaw purchasing for the sheriff’s office. When Mayor Tim Burchett requested his resignation following an investigation into charges of sexual harassment, Holt was earning roughly $136,500. Holt resigned Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. Jones hired him Monday, Oct. 31, for $137,000.
Jones never advertised the position and Holt was not vetted by the merit board. But that’s a moot point when the sheriff can steamroll retroactive approval.