published Monday, October 25th, 2010

Part-time county job, full-time benefits

by Dan Whisenhunt

The son of Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles was able to start his own business and keep most of his county benefits by working part time under a unique program now used by about two dozen county employees.

Under the county's Skills Incentive Management Program -- SKIMP -- an employee can work a minimum of 25 hours per week for Hamilton County government but keep health and life insurance, paid leave and holidays, benefits typically reserved for full-time employees. They do not have paid lunches, longevity pay or retirement.


Below are Hamilton County employees who are working part time under the Skills Incentive Management Program:

* Julie A. Aragon -- Health Department

* Morris W. Bice -- Sheriff's Office

* Mary L. Byington -- Parents Are First Teachers

* Dora Coker -- Health Department

* Robin K. Darling -- Health Department

* Shandra A. Fritz -- Parents Are First Teachers

* Yara S. Gonzalez -- Health Department

* Carolyn Gray -- Social Services

* Sterling Jetton -- Assessor

* Sheila P. Jones -- Health Department

* Lynn M. Mansfield -- Real Property

* Christine Elaine Morgan -- General Sessions

* Daniel L. Peterson -- Recycling

* Denise Ricketts -- Health Department

* Teresa R. Roberts -- Health Department

* Kimberly C. Spears -- Parents Are First Teachers

* Geraldine M. Spurgin -- Health Department

* Matthew C. Thomas -- Riverpark

* Yancey Thomas -- Information Technology Services

* Lamar J. Timmons -- Health Department

* Rhonda L. Trevino -- Health Department

* Lisa K. Vincent -- Health Department

* Penny Wade -- Health Department

* Thomas J. Wall -- Information -- Technology Services

Source: Hamilton County Human Resources

"There are times when the needs of a department can be met by hiring a qualified individual on a regular part-time basis," says one document on the county website. "A SKIMP employee is ideal for this type of situation."

Finley Knowles, the son of Bill Knowles, used the program from early 2008 until 2009 while he started his own private business, CertaPro Painters, a house-painting contractor.

Finley's brother, Alan Knowles, a Public Works employee who recently received a five-day unpaid suspension for his work on a side business using a county computer and e-mail, went on SKIMP from July 2000 to January 2001, records show. His boss, Public Works Administrator Dan Wade, said Alan Knowles went on SKIMP for family health reasons.

Alan Knowles directed all questions to Wade. Finley Knowles did not return messages seeking comment.

Rebecca Hunter, Hamilton County's director of human resources, said there now are 24 county general government employees on SKIMP. Hunter said some jobs are advertised for SKIMP, while in other cases an employee can ask their boss to change from full time to SKIMP status.

She said employees are paid only for the hours they work and, if they move from full time to SKIMP status, they typically are paid at the same hourly rate. Hunter did not know how often full-time workers went on SKIMP status.

"I don't know that it's common, but it's definitely accepted," she said.

She said the program saves taxpayers money, but she couldn't say how much.

Though the county clerk's office does not fall under the authority of the county department of human resources, clerk's office business manager Susie Holloway said the office's SKIMP policy is the same.

In an e-mail that Bill Knowles sent to Finley Knowles on Nov. 9, 2007, provided to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Bill Knowles said his son went on SKIMP so the clerk's office would not lose the benefit of his "expertise" while he started CertaPro.

Before he became a SKIMP employee, Finley Knowles was chief deputy clerk. He now is listed as the chief administrative deputy. In the e-mail, Bill Knowles said Finley Knowles started information technology and human resources programs for the clerk's office.

"SKIMP involvement should provide valuable support to the management team and the various general government functions you have been asked to assist with," his e-mail to Finley Knowles states. "I trust you can maintain this arrangement indefinitely."

Finley Knowles returned to full-time employment in 2009 with a salary of $82,181, roughly $2,000 more than he was making before going on SKIMP employment, records show.

Bill Knowles said Finley Knowles' wife now runs the CertaPro business.

Hunter said the SKIMP program is a remnant of a federal program the county received funding for in the late '70s or early '80s. The program was intended to help working mothers.

Asked why the county wouldn't hire part-time workers with no benefits to save on the costs of health insurance, Hunter said she couldn't answer that question.

She also did not have a recent cost analysis showing how much the program saves taxpayers.

The city of Chattanooga does not have a comparable program, according to Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Robin Roberts, administrator of field services for the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance service, said he's not familiar with any other county using a SKIMP program.

He said Hamilton County's program sounds like "a pretty inventive way" of controlling costs. Without the program, part-time employees would not be as motivated, he said.

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 ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
Allison12 said...

Wow, the last names there are all too familiar, Wade, Vincent, Ricketts. I would betcha 10 these are relatives of Dan Wade, the former State Rep. and Bubu Ricketts. Looks like membership in the local GOP or being elected does not hurt. As a tax payer, I would like to know just how many layers of nepotism Ham. County has.

October 25, 2010 at 5:57 a.m.
joepulitzer said...

All that's missing from Whisenhunt's stories now are ads for Tide, Cheer and Joy.

October 25, 2010 at 7:29 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Mr. Wisenhunt, Great work, the taxpayers derserve to know if the hiring practices in Hamilton County government are fair and objective, or does having a last name of Knowles, Wade, Vincent, Ricketts ensure employment. Education, experience, and a track record should be the measure for employment.

October 25, 2010 at 8:04 a.m.
rosebud said...

Hey Danny Whizz: I heard a rumor that one of those evil Knowles boys reportedly turned right on red without coming to a full stop. I think it was in 1997. You may want to check it out.

October 25, 2010 at 8:25 a.m.
fairmon said...

Another example of the "exclusive country club" style management of most governments. No competition and no profit motive while using other peoples money does not provide an incentive to be efficient and cost effective. This sounds like a benefit or option for any county employee that ask for it.

Compensation above the upper bracket for like work in the private sector is evident. Effective, productive use of work time does not compare well with private employers. Office holders pander to employees to gain election support. That is just the way of politics and that won't change.

Similar programs in the private sector are for a specific duration, normally no more than 26 weeks, with the expectation and understanding the employee will be able to return full time at that point. The employee pays a pro-rated amount for benefits such as health care, life insurance etc. The purpose is to enable the employer to retain critical skills not easily replaced from the labor market while allowing the employee to deal with a temporary personal hardship.

The obvious question is who does the work normally done by the reduced hours employee and at what cost to the employer? An answer of no one and none would be an indication of over staffing and under assignment which should be addressed.

Another Federal government grant that left tax payers with future cost. No one can provide the cost savings to tax payers for this program since there will be none without several erroneous assumptions on the part of the analyst.

October 25, 2010 at 8:31 a.m.

This is great comedy except for the fact that we, the tax paying citizens, are funding these jobs and the rich benefits which allow the Knowles family to benefit privately.

I'd like to see "Danny Whiz" do more than simply scratch the surface of this growing comedy. I think, perhaps, there is another Smokey and the Bandit movie in the making.

October 25, 2010 at 9:06 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Last week, Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles had a great-grandchild born in Nashville.

I understand the baby boy is now on the Hamilton County payroll as a "waste specialist."

It's heartwarming to see the monarchy continue. God Save the King!

Harry Statel

October 25, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.
jimmyboy said...

Whatever it takes to sell papers, right guys? Way to highlight a common procedure in county goverment. The SKIMP program was designed to allow reduced hours while keeping benefits. The guy only got paid for the hours he put in. It's not like he was paid and didn't work. I guess since he has that knowles name he must be out burning down villages or something right?

Oh and harry statel, bringing a barely born child into this issue of weekly world news is low dude. You're pathetic.

October 25, 2010 at 1:56 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Jimmyboy, you guys object to much. The SKIMP program looks like a Pachyderm Club sign in sheet: Coker, Ricketts, Wade Knowles, Vincent. Open recrods requests for all Hamilton County employees is in progess. Hamilton County gov. is top heavy with families of elected officals, and the GOP place to be.

October 25, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.
jimmyboy said...

Ummm...You do know the Knowles family is pretty much all Democratic except Bill right? Also, are you implying that the other 24 SKIMP county employees are somehow getting sweetheart deals or something? It's an in-between for part time and full time. They usually put people in SKIMP when they were hired for part time work and are transitioning to full-time. I think it's sad they these innocent people's names were posted as if they were doing something wrong. Allison, you bias, as seen from the last several posts has made you immune from arguement. It's impossible to deal with someone who just knows their right and are not open to all sides of the story.

October 25, 2010 at 3:10 p.m.

Yes indeedie, jimmyboy. Having the part-time employment benefits of free health and life insurance with paid vacation and paid leave IS a sweetheart deal. See, very few working adults in the greater Chattanooga area get the same or similar sweet deal with their employers.

October 25, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
jimmyboy said...

You guys are missing the point. The SKIMP program is not really costing the county any extra money. These people would be full time if they weren't on the SKIMP program. The lady from the human resources department even said it is saving the county money.

You guy's must think that these people are on some kind of welfare program where they just get checks sent home and do nothing. These people work and try to make the county a better place. You have to remember these people are humans and not something without emotions, dreams, fears.

October 25, 2010 at 4:44 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Jimmy, this reminds me of when I purchase non essential items on sale. Did the taxpayers really need part time employment with benefits, and was privilege and nepotism a requirement of obtaining almost unheard of part time work with .gov benefits? The names on this list are those of very well known current and former elected officials. Tell me that Coker is not former Commissioner Coker's relative. Tell me that Wade is not Dan Wade's relative. Tell me the Vincent is not Former State Rep. Vincent's relative. Tell me that Ricketts is not Bubba Ricketts. If all of the above is not true, then I stand corrected.

October 25, 2010 at 5:02 p.m.
jimmyboy said...

ROFL Allison. Assuming all 4 of the people you mentioned are exact relatives that makes 4 out of 24. That's 16 percent of all the people who are are SKIMP. I'm not too good at math, but that hardly sounds like a "requirement" to receive SKIMP. You people have to come up with better arguments than this.

October 25, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Jimmyboy, statistically if 4:24 confirmed on last name, then a closer examination would be warranted. From a theory perspective, a review of the 1,900 Hamilton County employees through 15-20 plus years of incumbency and nepotism, would likely yield family ties in a mathematical phenomenon commonly referenced deliverance theory given the state of affairs in our local governments.

October 25, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.
jimmyboy said...

Yea ok. This is the point were I smile, agree with you and walk away slowly without turning my back to you.

October 25, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.
skinemaxfan said...

The only thing better than having an idea for a private venture and using SKIMP to offset most of your personal risk to the taxpayer is remaining a highly paid full-time city employee while you start your private venture on the city time-clock and use city resources in its promotion.....Now thats a sweet program!

Don't get too excited if you are a Knowles, as your last name has to be Crutchfield in order to qualify for this one. It's called PIMPS: Promoting and Implementing My Personal Success, and again only Missy Crutchfield was approved for this program.

October 25, 2010 at 7:17 p.m.
fairmon said...

Full benefits for part time work is not appropriate and more liberal than any private sector employer. A full time employee requesting part time should have a legitimate specific personal hardship for a duration not exceeding 26 weeks with return to full time expected. The part time employee should pay no less than the pro-rated cost of any beneifts.

To say this is not costing more than a full time employee if there is indeed full time work is not credible and confirms no valid cost analysis has been made.

Mr. Whisenhunt is providing tax payers a very valuable service but enough are not seeing the reason city and county taxes are so high and why more is not accomplished with their tax dollars.

It is the typical "country club" management style of all governments. No incentive to be efficient and productive when you are in a no profit service business that uses other peoples money with no financial consequences for decision makers or workers.

Compare city and county employees compensation for like work to private industry in the labor supply area. This program is a federal government grant holdover that is now being funded by tax payers beyond what the grant was for. If it saves money why did the government have to provide governments a grant to get them to do it the first time?

October 25, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.
NoMyth said...

Great reporting. Obviously, SKIMP should be eliminated. It was a bad idea 30+ years ago and it is a horrible idea today...not to mention that it is being applied for reasons inconsistent with its original purpose. As mentioned previously, no private sector employee would ever get this deal...the taxpayers need to demand an end to this freeloading program. Anyone who suggests this program is saving the taxpayer money is sorely mistaken and has never run a business and paid benefits. More importantly, the State Attorney General needs to conduct a full-blown investigation into Hamilton County hiring practices. The nepotism is beyond out of control. Do these people have no shame? I'm sure all of the HR records for the program that Junior Knowles started are up to snuff. What a joke.

October 25, 2010 at 10:05 p.m.
Allison12 said...

NoMyth, you are correct, someone needs to sort through 1,900 employees and determine if they are related, a monumental task. The Knowles family can have a check mark, 7 family members.

October 26, 2010 at 7:31 a.m.
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