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.
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 ...