published Friday, October 1st, 2010

County doesn’t act on Knowles e-mails

by Dan Whisenhunt
Audio clip

Commission meeting agenda session

Hamilton County officials took no action Thursday to investigate e-mails sent by a public works superintendent who has admitted running a private business on work time.

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said at a County Commission workshop that he would brief the county committee chairmen on the county’s personnel policy.

But he said the county’s Ethics Committee couldn’t be convened to look into the actions of Alan Knowles unless a formal complaint is filed.

County Mayor Claude Ramsey said he still has not looked at e-mails Knowles sent regarding the operation of his private Christian concert promotions business, Dove Ministries Inc., on county time and using a county e-mail account and computer.

Some of those e-mails were to or from Alan Knowles’ brother, Finley Knowles, a DMI board member and chief administrator of the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office, and Michael Clark, records and archive clerk in the clerk’s office and who did some work for DMI.

County Clerk Bill Knowles, who is the father of Alan and Finley Knowles and Clark’s boss, said Thursday the issue “has been taken care of according to policy.”

Bill Knowles’ deputy clerk, Debbie Rollins, said Thursday she spoke with Finley Knowles and with Clark and did not feel they violated county policy.

She said she had not looked at the dozen or so e-mail exchanges between Alan Knowles and Clark or Finley Knowles during county work hours.

“I did caution both of them to be cautious of taking care of any personal business outside the office on the job and basically that was it,” she said.

Alan Knowles earns $64,555 a year as superintendent of support services for the Public Works Department. IRS records show he also earned $157,345 since 2007 as president of private, nonprofit DMI and worked about 30 hours a week in addition to his full-time job at the county.

Knowles acknowledged Tuesday that he handled business for DMI during county work hours and on county e-mail. He provided e-mails showing contacts with other board members, vendors and music group management.

Chattanooga recently faced a similar situation involving an employee. On Tuesday, the City Council authorized its Audit Committee to review whether Department of Education, Arts and Culture Administrator Missy Crutchfield violated city laws and policies by using work time to market a private business.

Alan Knowles’ boss, Public Works Administrator Dan Wade, said Wednesday that a “formal warning” was placed in Knowles’ personnel file for violating county policy. County Human Resources Director Rebecca Hunter did not respond Thursday to a request for a copy of the warning.

At Thursday’s County Commission work session, Chairman Fred Skillern did not mention Alan or Finley Knowles or Clark when he told committee chairmen to meet with Taylor for a briefing on the county’s personnel policy.

“I’m asking all of the chairmen of certain committees to get with our attorney and be briefed on the duties of the Hamilton County Commission, of which we will uphold and follow to the letter, and I want us all to be aware of that and on the same page,” Skillern said.

Taylor said the media would not be invited to the one-on-one briefings and that he had not been asked to prepare a report on the discussions.

“I’m meeting with heads of all committees to explain about personnel policy and who is responsible to whom,” Taylor said.

Commissioners serve as chairmen of nine county committees, which monitor and oversee everything from schools and roads to legal matters and delinquent taxes.

Each of the nine county commissioners serves as the chairman of a different committee.

The commissioners do not, however, oversee employees.

Skillern said the commission has no say over the situation with Alan and Finley Knowles and that it is the responsibility of Ramsey and Bill Knowles.

“It’s clear-cut that we cannot hire, we cannot fire, we cannot discipline,” Skillern said. “That’s very clear. But what I’m concerned about is as the county commission, I don’t want to be involved in any way in a decision for Claude Ramsey or Bill Knowles or other officials to make.”

Commissioner Jim Coppinger said he expects committee chairmen to report their findings to Skillern and do it in a public meeting.

The county’s Ethics Committee investigates complaints regarding employees or officials. Taylor and Bill Knowles are members, as are Administrator of Finance Louis Wright, County Auditor Bill McGriff and Skillern.

Taylor said the Ethics Committee cannot initiate an investigation, but he said anyone could start one by giving a written complaint to the commission chairman or any commissioner. If the committee were to look into the situation, Bill Knowles would have to recuse himself, Taylor said.

In addition, McGriff can, in his role as auditor, investigate Knowles’ activity, but said the commission has not formally asked him to do so.

“I will certainly do that and I have been and am in the process of making inquiries,” McGriff said.

Contact Dan Whisenhunt at or (423)-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: E-mails show pattern of county employee running other business

Article: County quiet on Knowles e-mails

Article: Commissioners unsure what to do about Knowles

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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NoMyth said...

The responses from the County Mayor and County Clerk (and his deputy) are not acceptable. Clearly, there needs to be an ethics complaint and it should go beyond the issue of working a separate job on county time. It should also address the obvious nepotism and favoritism running rampant in these offices. There should be complete investigation of hiring practices for these agencies and examination of all applications and qualifications, whether hiring decisions were fair, etc. It must be nice when your daddy can get you a cushy job that pays you to do nothing while you double your money doing 'the Lord's work'. Pathetic. County government should be eliminated. Let the municipalities take care of themselves. It's time to thin the bureaucracy and give taxpayers real returns on their investments in the community...not to spend their hard-earned dollars on a bunch of worthless self-important bureaucrats. If the Tea Party wasn't a joke, it would stand up and address these local issues. Thank you TFP for the reporting...keep up the good work.

October 1, 2010 at 12:36 a.m.
whatever said...

Keep dreaming. Nobody's going to eliminate county government, or even reform it.

Also the Tea Party is far too busy jousting at windmills to address local issues.

October 1, 2010 at 12:52 a.m.
robsmith501960 said...

I find Whisenhunt's article with contradiction. The central claim of the article is that the County is inactive. But the content of the article explains the action that has already been taken. 1) Alan Knowles received an official reprimand. 2) County Mayor Claud Ramsey is looking into the matter. 3) County Attorney Rheubin Taylor met with Commissioners in a workshop to make sure they were aware of the policies in question and their role with employees.

It's not truthful to say the County isn't acting. Could it be that until the County does what Whisenhunt thinks should be done, he will take the position that they aren't acting. Grow up. Let the process work--even if it's slow, and realize that people hear you even if they don't agree with you.

October 1, 2010 at 6:41 a.m.
Allison12 said...

I find both Whisenhunt and Hightowers coverage very informative and scratching the surface the real extent of inappropriate use of taxpayer funded resources and salaries to serve the public. Exposure of the full extent of the abuse of taxpayer resources must be exposed it is wrong. Great work Times Free Press.

October 1, 2010 at 8:04 a.m.
SeaIsland said...

Debbie Rollins...did not feel they violated county policy.

Mind closed until further notice.

Business as usual in Hamilton County.

Thank you: Whisenhunt and Hightower

October 1, 2010 at 9:09 a.m.
sideviews said...

I commend the paper for exposing the work on county time by a department manager. But is it really such a big deal to warrant four front page stories this week in the Times Free Press. There is no evidence that Alan Knowles didn't fully do his job as an administrator or that he didn't put in enough time to fully do his job. Who has been hurt by his action? How has the county been cheated a single penny by what he did?

October 1, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Whisenhunt and Hightower (and their editor) have started doing what newspapers use to do — investigate and report. Thanks.

I hope the pablum the TFP has become under the years of Tom Griscom will come to an end, but that remains to be seen.

THE TFP is scratching the surface of corruption in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. There's a smörgåsbord to choose from so investigate away.

Harry Statel

October 1, 2010 at 9:34 a.m.
ChattaVol said...

Is this really an example of "corruption in county government?" Or is it just someone checking his email at many people do. How many people text, use cellphones or make personal phone calls at work?

Why haven't the other major news outlets in Chattanooga picked up this front page story? Perhaps they don't think this is a story at all.

October 1, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.
whatever said...

Ever worked at a place where they were all antsy about people getting personal calls or e-mails?

Worst work environment ever.

Not saying you couldn't abuse the privilege, but in most cases, it's just not an issue.

October 1, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.
TeaParty330 said...

These stories fall into the trap of measuring work simply on whether you are at your desk from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., not what you get done. If someone can get their work done and get a second job -- paying more in taxes to state and local government -- more power to him. Where is the evidence that Alan Knowles didn't do his job for the county? The county has reprimanded Knowles, he has been humiliated in the paper, and county leaders have promised to investigate Mr. Knowles in accordance with county policies. So far, not a single citizen has complained. I think the headline that says the county is not doing anything is wrong.

October 1, 2010 at 2:43 p.m.
chattbiz said...

I personally can't believe this! A county employee, paid by my tax dollars, is running a business on the side?!?!?! Well, I don't know if I should be enraged or impressed that the business can be run with a dozen emails during 2009 because that is how many emails are mentioned in the story.

"She said she had not looked at the dozen or so e-mail exchanges between Alan Knowles and Clark or Finley Knowles during county work hours."

Seriously?!? Three guys exchange a "dozen or so emails" in an entire year and this is a story? And this means the business is run during working hours? Alan deserves an award for being able to run a business on so few emails with a board member (Finley) and whatever Mr. Clark is.

If this is an example of government corruption in Chattanooga, I'm feeling much better about living hear because I don't care if a dozen or so emails are sent during business hours. All my employees send a few personal emails a day and that is just life.

Let's find a real story!

October 2, 2010 at 9:03 p.m.
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