The silent Paul White speaks

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

Paul W. White, terminated as senior director of Parks and Recreation for Knox County, never issued a press release or called any reporters I know. He just disappeared – until last week.

On October 18, 2021, White filed a federal lawsuit through his attorney, David A. Burkhalter II, alleging that Mayor Glenn Jacobs defamed him with a press release announcing his termination. He’s asking the Court for damages, double back pay with interest, attorney’s fees and court costs.

Paul White

We first mentioned Paul White in this September 25, 2018, article. I wrote that Jacobs was so new to politics that he didn’t have enough cronies to fill out his staff. That’s probably why he made his campaign manager, Bryan Hair, his chief-of-staff and then hired Hair’s brother, Brad, to be his personal aide and Hair’s former banking colleague Paul White as Parks & Rec director.

Nothing was heard from White until late summer 2020 when Courthouse gossip keyed on financial irregularities in Parks & Rec regarding designer boots, a golf cart, a playhouse and a snake.

Before we repeat White’s allegations, remember his is one side of the story. Jacobs had his say a year ago. Bryan Hair resigned. Chuck James retired. And Jacobs has hired Joe Mack, an actual parks & rec guy, as senior director.

The truth, according to White

Jacobs and Bryan Hair wanted 30-year veteran employee Chuck James to head the department. But he resided outside Knox County, a situation prohibited by the county charter for department heads. So, Hair and Jacobs said James would handle day-to-day operations of Parks & Rec while White would be essentially a figurehead, managing the budget.

James ran the department with impunity with the full knowledge and permission of other senior officials. James had a county purchase card; White did not.

In May 2020, White and James bought two refurbished golf carts for the department. Hair requested to “borrow” one to be kept at his home. White said no, but James OK’d the request and sent county workers to deliver the cart.

White reported Hair’s misuse of county property and James’ use of county staff to do personal work at homes of other officials to HR director Marcus Kennedy twice, in mid-July and on Sept. 29. He specifically mentioned workers moving a children’s playset at Hair’s house and White taking two workers to remove a snake from the personal residence of Jacobs.

White had four conversations with Chris Caldwell, finance director and deputy chief-of-staff. He heard nothing until a Sept. 24 call from Bryan Hair telling him a reporter was asking questions about the purchase of boots through Parks & Rec, but Hair said “it is not a big deal.”

On Oct. 12, Jacobs called White to his office. After White confirmed that Hair was lying about his use of the golf cart and that White would not go along with the false story, he said Jacobs became visibly angry. He told White not to discuss their conversation with anyone and not to speak to investigators unless they contacted him.

On Oct. 14, Caldwell put White on paid administrative leave because of Hair’s use of the golf cart. Caldwell reiterated that White had done nothing wrong.

While “eagerly waiting” to be contacted by investigators, White heard nothing until a Sunday-night phone call Oct. 18 from Marcus Kennedy, HR director, requesting his resignation. White refused, saying he had nothing wrong.

He learned the next morning, Oct. 19, 2020, that he had been terminated. Jacobs fired him by press release, “insinuating that (White) was involved in the wrongdoing.” Our stories of that event are here, here, here and here.

Neither before nor after his termination, was White interviewed or questioned by investigators. He never had a chance to report the truth or clear his name.

Jacobs never directly informed White that he was terminated; he never provided paperwork confirming the termination.

The lawsuit

Knox County has a bad habit of settling lawsuits out of court with nondisclosure agreements. If that happens here, White’s story will never be told. We are printing his entire complaint here: Paul-White-lawsuit. Decide for yourself.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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