published Thursday, September 30th, 2010

E-mails show pattern of county employee running other business


by Dan Whisenhunt

A Hamilton County employee who ran a private business using his county computer received a formal written warning for failure to follow county employment policies.

“That’s the only thing we can do other than fire him or suspend him,” Public Works Administrator Dan Wade said of employee Alan Knowles. “It’s just a failure to follow procedure.”

Knowles, the son of Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles, earns $64,555 a year as superintendent of support services for the Public Works Department. IRS records show he also earned $157,345 as president of a private non-profit company since 2007.

Knowles acknowledged Tuesday he handled business for Dove Ministries Inc., doing business as DMI Concerts, during county work hours. The nonprofit company books Christian concerts for Chattanooga.

He said Wednesday he would have no further comment.

But e-mails he provided show the extent to which Knowles used his county computer to communicate with others, including his brother and sister, about the business.

One series of e-mails shows that Knowles and DMI paid more than $8,000 in penalties after an IRS audit but company board members felt “it could have been worse.”

TRACKING E-MAILS

On Tuesday, county Human Resources Director Rebecca Hunter said policy prohibits employees from outside work that affects their county employment or creates a conflict of interest.

E-mails show Knowles answered DMI e-mails sent to his county e-mail account at all hours, both during and after work. In other instances, he received DMI-related messages on a private e-mail account and copied them to his work account.

He sent company messages to his brother Finley, who is an unpaid member of the DMI board and chief administrator in the County Clerk’s Office.

Finley Knowles also received a few DMI-related e-mails in 2009 at his county e-mail address and on at least one occasion responded to one during county work hours.

Their sister, Reba Kunselman, a secretary for DMI’s board of directors, also received e-mails from Alan Knowles and sent e-mails to him on his county computer. They concerned invoices, graphics and logos for DMI concerts and catering arrangements for Christian musical acts.

IRS AUDIT

Several e-mails concern an IRS audit in 2008 of DMI’s 2006 tax filing. The tax filing itself was unavailable to the Times Free Press.

One e-mail was by Scott Kennedy, whom Kunselman said is a DMI board member as well as an IRS criminal investigator. Kennedy did not return phone calls or an e-mail Wednesday.

On July 29, 2009, Kennedy sent an e-mail to other board members saying the audit was over and said it “could have been much worse.” His e-mail was copied to Alan Knowles’ and Finley Knowles’ county e-mail accounts.

Alan Knowles described the audit in an e-mail he sent after hours on July 26 from a personal e-mail account to other board members and to his and his brother’s county e-mail accounts.

“The audit was completed on May 14, 2009 with only one finding — tax liabilities on the DMI vehicles ...,” Knowles wrote. “While Reba, Scott and I had discussed it after a November 2005 board meeting, I failed to follow-up with Reba in the implementation on what we discussed. Taxes and interest paid were $4,846.35 (Alan) and $3,701.33 (DMI).”

Knowles also wrote that Kennedy’s “knowledge and insight were invaluable.”

Kennedy’s e-mail gave credit for surviving the audit to Kunselman, but acknowledged “having an insider that knew how the IRS works also helped.”

He told board members they had faced penalties because of a “law that I was not familiar with that taxes every Board member with a substantial penalty for anything determined to be abusive by the IRS in the way of fringe benefits.”

It’s not clear whether he was referring to the DMI vehicles that Knowles referenced.

“We barely escaped this huge penalty (by the skin of our teeth as they say) for all Board members and need to make sure that we are all aware of this and take all steps to avoid any future problems,” Kennedy wrote.

He said the IRS also said the DMI board should be more diverse because many of its members are related. Alan Knowles’ wife, Tina, also served on the board at one point, IRS records show.

Kennedy ended his e-mail by saying the auditor was impressed with the nonprofit, but cautioned that once a company has been audited its chances to be audited again “increase substantially.” He said he suspected the nonprofit would be audited again.

BOARD VOTE

On Aug. 19, 2009, Alan Knowles used the county e-mail system to gather votes on new DMI board members as recommended by the IRS.

He sent the initial e-mail after work hours using a personal account, but copied them to his and his brother’s county e-mails.

Finley Knowles voted for the new board members on Aug. 24, 2009, at 2:56 p.m. using his county work e-mail.

As part of his duties in the clerk’s office, Finley Knowles handles personnel issues. He said the clerk’s office policy prohibits such communications if they are “more than incidental.”

He said he considered e-mail exchanges where the company voted on new board members to be “incidental” communications.

“I’ve never done an instantaneous kind of board meeting (via e-mail),” Finley Knowles said in an interview Wednesday. “I would vigorously protest [an allegation that] I’ve been in a board meeting on county time.”

Another County Clerk employee, Records and Archive Clerk Michael Clark, also communicated with Alan Knowles about DMI work during county time in 2009, according to e-mail exchanges.

Clark said he put together a banner for the company after work hours and was not paid for his work. At 2:11 p.m. March 6, 2009, Clark sent an e-mail to Alan Knowles’ county e-mail account about his quick e-mail replies.

“Don’t reply back so fast next time,” Clark said. “I’ll think you aren’t doing any work over there!”

Clark said in an interview Wednesday he was making a joke about the speed of the county’s e-mail system, and was not saying Alan Knowles did not pay enough attention to his duties at the county.

Most of the e-mails sent and received by Alan Knowles on his county e-mail account dealt with the day-to-day issues of running a concert business.

In a typical example sent at 3:46 p.m. Oct. 9, 2009, Knowles discussed plans with a caterer for breakfast for a Casting Crowns concert. He sent the message to the caterer from his county work account.

“Heinz brand ketchup has been requested,” Knowles wrote. “Any problems fulfilling the special request?”

Continue reading by following this link to a related story:

Article: County employee runs nonprofit on county time

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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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.
robsmith501960 said...

Okay, the jury is not out anymore. There is no story here. Whisehunt refers to a few emails and is making a multi-day story out of it. These really do sound like incidental emails. And, by the way, Heinz ketchup is a great choice.

September 30, 2010 at 5:30 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Local government is corrupt and needs to be called down on using taxpayer resources for pivate gain. It surely is a job advantage to have Knowles or Crutchfield as your last name.

September 30, 2010 at 6:20 a.m.
fairmon said...

See comments at County Quiet on Knowles emails article.

September 30, 2010 at 7:42 a.m.
pacman said...

Really? What does it matter if this man has a "NICE" home? What does that have to do with the emails sent from a work email address????? Wildman get a life! As far as the news story...I am confused what is the story? Seems to me Dan Whisenhunt for some reason wanted to take the heat off of Crutchfield. Who cares what Knowles or Crutchfield did? Must be a slow news week.

September 30, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.
SeaIsland said...

Knowles and taxpayers knew it would be overlooked.

Public employees are rarely sanctioned, feel entitled and are seldom, if ever, fired for failure to follow procedure. Public policies are a joke.

Run your own business; just get out of the public trough.

September 30, 2010 at 9:33 a.m.

At least Knowles is running a successful business. Missy Crutchfield, on the other hand... poor poor Missy.

September 30, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.
tennessee said...

I am shocked to hear that Finley Knowles is employed by Hamilton County. I am certain that Finley Knowles was in Catoosa County every day of the Tonya Craft trial. In the courtroom. Seated on the side of the prosecution, as he is close friends with plaintiff Joal Henke.

I would like to know if Hamilton County was paying Finley Knowles as he sat in that courtroom every day for how many days? Twenty? Twenty-three?

As far as Alan Knowles sending/receiving email pertaining to Dove Ministries and DMI Concerts, I don't see that as a problem unless the sending/receiving of these emails compromised his ability to fulfill his responsibilities.

I am curious, however, as to any emails that may have been sent/received pertaining to the Tonya Craft trial.

I have known Alan Knowles for many years, and believe he is a moral man with much integrity... but his support of Joal Henke through the Tonya Craft trial causes much concern for me as anyone with an ounce of intelligence can clearly see Tonya was falsely accused and that the accusations of Joal Henke, both pre-trial and under oath, were contrived by this very deceptive man.

Joal Henke is a master manipulator who has the people of Eastwood Church eating out of his hands. Joal could easily start a cult. He would have many followers... he is that good.

September 30, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.
robsmith501960 said...

Government needs accountability becuase we citizens have an inherent distrust. On the other hand, we have to let the chain of command do it's work. The county policies regarding email says personal emails are to be incidental and that don't keep a person from doing his/her job. With a guy like Knowles, he's probably not working a "normal work day," and his job is getting done. Otherwise he'll get dinged in evaluations and his competence--or not--will be evident. This isn't a conversation the is helped by anger. What are the issues at stake?

September 30, 2010 at 11 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Special announcement by Littlefield and Ramsey for well-connected government employees. God has spoken!

http://wp.me/p10KwY-km Harry Statel

September 30, 2010 at 11:52 a.m.
whatever said...

Just shut down the e-mail servers.

Problem SOLVED.

I'll take one million dollars for my consulting fee. After Taxes.

September 30, 2010 at 12:09 p.m.
fairmon said...

Only the tip of the iceberg. Don't expect the commission and council to go beyond the two highly publicized issues.

Ms. Crutchfield actually appeared to have good intent. The mayors, council and commission are upset about the adverse publicity, not the behavior, and all are in full damage control mode.

Will they take this opportunity to audit for the use of work time and tax payer funded resources to access social networks such as face book, information web sites, shopping, financial resources plus a myriad of non work related activity?

The over staffing and under assignment of work invites the poor use of work time. Why not participate when the paid work time is not well utilized?

A few spot audits and walk throughs are eye openers. Some city employees acknowledge they have little and at times nothing to do.

Do we have a mayor or council member with the knowledge, skill and ability to assure staffs are "right sized" and all work is "right sourced"?

A valid survey of the labor supply area for comparison of compensation (pay and benefits) for like work would bring too much pressure to make the indicated adjustments to no more than the average higher percentile in the supply area. Police and fire employees may even get a deserved increase.

Would anyone on the council or commission ever consider utilizing the excellent resources available to evaluate each position and the value of it?

The answer is none of these will happen, they just don't fit the political "give and give" mentality.

Have you received your annual tax bill? Have you compared it to last years? Have you adjusted your spendable income accordingly? Remember they are only "modest" increases to make up for spending that organic growth did not cover.

just to review those modest increases and reductions in tax payer spendable money. o 19% property tax rate (.37C per $1k) o 19% storm water run off fees o 5.5% sewer tax o $600,000 for permits,inspections etc. o Other less publicized? o 28% requested by TWAC

A "modest" increase in the cost of goods and services will occur resulting in a "modest" increase in sales tax.

But don't get upset, the council keeps finding themselves in those "no choice" situations so they have to have ATM (Added Tax Money) access to fund the country club called city government. They are there to help us.

September 30, 2010 at 3:31 p.m.
FM_33 said...

You got to have a back door plan somewhere.

September 30, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
NoMyth said...

This is a classic case of nepotism...a rampant problem in an inbred town like Chattanooga. Knowles, Jr. was probably handpicked for the job because of his daddy. Who knows, maybe the job was created for him. I'd love to see the documentation of who was interviewed and how the county documented the most qualified candidate was selected. In any case, that job could either be eliminated or, if it does need someone to actually do some work, then someone new should be hired. It is pathetic that this guy has not been canned. What a joke.

September 30, 2010 at 8:44 p.m.
ChattaVol said...

Let me see if I understand this correctly. It is inappropriate for anyone (particularly county employees) to send or receive any personal communications (that should include telephone and cell calls) while at work, and is cause for dismissal. If that is the case, then most of the employees at most businesses with a phone or internet connection would probably be fired.

It doesn't sound like Mr. Knowles sent or received an excessive amount of emails while at work. Let's give him a break. Most of us have received non-work related communications (email, phone calls) while at work. As long as it does not interfere with the job and is not excessive, then it is certainly no cause for dismissal.

September 30, 2010 at 8:56 p.m.
chattbiz said...

Who has not sent personal emails or calls during work hours? I still think Alan should be given an award for running a second business with so few emails.

Why in the world is a dozen or so emails big news? Looks like Whisenhunt is trying to make a name for himself by making up a story where none exists. This is why it's so hard for the public to trust media...they dramatize a story of such little significance.

October 2, 2010 at 9:11 p.m.
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