Zero tolerance for ethical lapses

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

Glenn Jacobs should not wait “several months” to handle misuse of county funds by his chief of staff, Bryan Hair, and director of parks, Paul White.


In a statement Thursday, Hair said his personal use of a county-owned golf cart was “not only a mistake on my part, but a lapse in judgment. It was not wise for me to borrow something that belongs to the citizens of Knox County, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.”

Hair is paid over $170,000 per year and oversees virtually every employee of the county mayor (except his brother, Brad, who is the mayor’s personal assistant). All employees are required to read and sign the county ethics policy upon their employment. The full policy is here.

Pertinent portions are:

  • “Knox County has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy regarding the theft, misappropriation, and/or mismanagement of funds entrusted to its employees.”
  • “Misuse of public position. No public officer or county employee shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others.”
  • “Use of Government Property. No public official or employee shall make use of the facilities, equipment, personnel, or supplies of the county or its agencies for private use or gain except to the extent that the use is incidental or minimal or is lawfully available to the general public.”

Compass reporters Scott Barker and Jesse Fox Mayshark have been working on this story for some time. Their Thursday report here includes specifics obtained from freedom of information requests obtained over a two-week period. Perhaps their inquiries triggered Jacobs’ action Tuesday to suspend the two and call for an external audit.

Pertinent portions of the Compass report are:

  • Purchases with county purchasing cards of several pairs of expensive hiking boots by Parks and Recreation employees this year at Elliott’s Boots on Western Avenue.
  • Among the purchases was a $220 pair of Hoka brand boots for White, purchased just last month.
  • Another Parks and Recreation employee purchased a pair of Keen boots at Elliott’s last month for $150. Finance director Chris Caldwell said those boots were actually purchased for Hair, because the chief of staff had been spending time overseeing work on the county’s Beaver Creek restoration project. Hair said he returned the boots, unopened.

The Compass also turned up “bonuses” to Paul White of $4,200 in 2019 and $5,000 earlier this year – on top of his $115,823 salary. The reporters didn’t get to possible reimbursements for mileage (or whether White and Hair have a county-owned car) and other perks. There are only so many hours in a day.

In his press release on Tuesday, Mayor Jacobs said White and Hair are suspended with pay pending the external audit which could take “several months.”

Senior staff should be held to the highest standard. Jacobs has handled previous staff issues promptly: Roger Kane’s position of “education liaison” eliminated, along with Kane; Rob Link transferred to IT and Mike Donila brought in as communications director.

Since White and Hair are already equipped, Jacobs should tell both to “take a hike.”

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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