School board member Tony Norman no longer works for Knox County.
Technically, Knox County’s senior director of Engineering and Public Works, Jim Snowden, fired Norman. Also in the room were Richard Julian and Marcus Kennedy, who both work for the county’s HR department. Julian’s presence is somewhat surprising, considering that he accepted a buy-out to retire not that long ago. Turns out he’s still working in the HR department on a contract basis, which means he was paid to go away, then paid to come back. Sweet.
Regardless of who wielded the ax, Norman’s dismissal from his half-time position as stormwater NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) project manager surprised a lot of people because Norman has worked for Knox County in many capacities and with considerable distinction over the past 40 years. As a master’s level biology teacher for 30 years at Farragut and West High Schools, he taught two generations of students to monitor and analyze water quality in nearby streams as part of the award-winning ecology and life sciences program he designed. He retired from teaching in 2007, the year after he was elected to Knox County Commission. He was a commissioner for eight years, served as chair for a term and consistently championed water quality measures. He left the commission in 2014 (he was term limited) and was elected to the school board in 2016.
Most recently, he had two county jobs – the elected one as District 3 school board member, and the position from which he was abruptly removed last month.
So why was he fired from a job that former Mayor Tim Burchett created specifically for him in 2014? It wasn’t because he was unqualified or lazy.
County government won’t comment on sensitive personnel issues like firings, so they’re not saying much.
But Norman said he was fired from the $32,066-a-year job “because of a problem with my time card.”
He said this puzzled him because he’s filled out his cards the same way since he was hired, and he was never required to punch a time clock.
“This position was one that I really loved,” he said. His duties included overseeing the stormwater protection plan on the highway department’s Baxter Avenue site and running training programs for highway employees.
“I did a lot of stuff, and it all fit with my main interest, which is water quality. I wore several different hats.”
Norman had appeared on a radio talk show the day before he was called on the carpet and accused of not properly clocking out before going to the radio station.
He now says he cannot specifically recall if he’d gone on the air and discussed his opposition to moving Knox County Schools’ administrative staff to the TVA tower – a proposition that Mayor Glenn Jacobs is pulling out all the stops to get done.
“But I might have,” Norman said.
Odds are he did, since this is the hottest issue before the school board right now, and is the issue most likely to interest a radio talk show host and her audience.
Based on his public statements, Norman is unlikely to vote for the project Jacobs is pushing so hard to get done. So, let’s assume that Norman told the radio audience why he’s against the TVA tower deal.
Reckon that ticked Jacobs off?
Ask former state Rep. Roger Kane, who was (briefly) Jacobs’ legislative liaison until he stood up in front of the county commission and explained his new job while barely mentioning his boss’s name. When Kane was done bragging, Jacobs hauled him to the back of the room and told him to hit the road.
This mayor won’t tolerate county employees who embarrass him in public.
And Tony Norman didn’t get fired over a time card.
Betty Bean is a veteran reporter for Knox and Sevier counties. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.