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 email@example.com or (423)-757-6481. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DWhisenhunt.
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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 ...