Haslam on issues involving finalists for TBI director post: 'None of us has a perfect background'

Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the Chattanooga Rotary Club meeting Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. Haslam spoke about health care and education among other topics during the event.

NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam says he understands various issues have been raised about all three nominees he is considering to head the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and that's why he will be conducting interviews with an eye toward suitability.

"I think that's why we do our due diligence," Haslam said last week. "I mean, obviously, if I'm being interviewed I've got issues, right? None of us has a perfect background. Our job in the interview process is to ask about those things and then other things, as well, to see if there's an issue and find out what the full story is."

Meanwhile, the governor's legal counsel is using a retired FBI special agent to conduct background investigations on the three prospective nominees: Acting TBI Director Jason Locke; former Bradley County sheriff Tim Gobble, who once was a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service and currently serves on the state Parole Board; and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.

They were approved earlier this month by the independent TBI Nominating Commission for Haslam to consider to fill the empty director's post for state government's criminal investigative arm.

Once the background process is complete, Haslam plans to have all three candidates in for personal interviews before making his decision about appointing one of them.

"Hopefully, we're working on our way to do the background checks," Haslam said. "Again, my hope is somewhere in the next three weeks. It won't be [this coming week] but either the week after that or the following week. We'll interview them, and then I think make a pretty quick decision."

The governor said he knows issues about each candidate have been raised.

For example, Gobble, who was elected sheriff in 2006 and served a single term, was sued in U.S. District Court while in office by his former finance director, Cheryl Rich.

She alleged Gobble violated her First Amendment rights after she spoke out against "fraud, waste and abuse" in the office. In court documents, Rich charged that included Gobble's hiring of his wife for what Rich called a "vaguely-described" $20,000 position soon after he took office.

Gobble legally contested Rich's version of events, stating in court documents he decided to fire Rich after then-FBI Agent Wayne Jackson told him she had informally approached him in a local restaurant and "made numerous derogatory remarks regarding myself and my management decisions" which Jackson "found inappropriate and troublesome."

But the sheriff's effort to get the lawsuit dismissed was unsuccessful. U.S. District Court Judge R. Allan Edgar in 2009 denied the request, noting that while both parties "dispute many of the material facts of the matter," he was required to view the facts in the "most light most favorable" to Rich because Gobble had moved for summary judgment.

The suit was later settled out of court.

"There's really nothing there that I can say about it," Gobble said last week, citing a nondisclosure agreement on the settlement. "It's a decade old. There was an out of court settlement. There was no admission about any wrongdoing."

He said in response to a reporter's question that if named to head TBI, he would not hire family members.

Nashville television station WTVF, meanwhile, has reported that when acting TBI Director Locke was the agency's deputy director, the TBI hired his son, a recent college graduate with no law enforcement experience, as a special agent, a highly-sought post.

Then-TBI Director Mark Gwyn defended the hiring, telling WTVF he hired his deputy director's son because he grew up watching his father "go out and work cases. He understood what the values at TBI and what that TBI badge meant."

The final interviews were conducted by a group of TBI supervisors who report to the deputy director, the station reported.

Tennessee's nepotism law says "no state employees who are related shall be placed within the same direct line of supervision." Gwyn told WTVF that TBI attorneys informed him that because Locke does not directly supervise his son, his hiring was legal.

Meanwhile, The Tennessean reported in 2016 that Knoxville Police Chief Rausch and a detective made "professional courtesy" calls in advance to then-University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones about a rape investigation involving two players.

Rausch told the newspaper that was common practice when police investigated alleged crimes involving an athlete and no information of any kind was divulged to the players.

The Knoxville News Sentinel later reported that after a review, Rausch dropped the practice, saying "it is clear that no investigations were compromised or improper information provided."

"But," the chief added, "in the interest of transparency and to alleviate any appearance of conflict of interest, we have changed the previous practice, to ensure that investigators focus without hindrance on finding the facts and bringing justice to victims of crime."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.