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A county employee who admitted to handling business for a private company while at work has been suspended without pay for five days.

On Wednesday, County Mayor Claude Ramsey announced the suspension of Public Works employee Alan Knowles, who used his county e-mail account and computer for business with his Christian concert promotions company. The suspension began Wednesday.

Ramsey said his investigation into Knowles is over, but County Auditor Bill McGriff said he has contacted the Tennessee Comptroller's Office about the situation. The comptroller's office can audit local governments for possible misuse of public funds or resources.

"I called them and we talked about it," McGriff said. "We're going to talk about it some more."

He said he would know within a week whether the comptroller intends to investigate.

Comptroller spokesman Blake Fontenay said Tuesday that the office is monitoring the situation but would not comment further when contacted Wednesday.

Knowles, the son of Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday, and an e-mail sent to his county work account generated an automatic reply saying he won't be back in the office until Oct. 13.

Ramsey said in his letter to Knowles that he had reviewed Knowles' file and "certain other documentation" before deciding to suspend him. Knowles, who was hired by the county in 1993, has 14 days to appeal, Ramsey said.

"This decision took into consideration your work record, job performance and increased responsibilities over the past few years," Ramsey wrote.

The evaluations in Knowles' personnel file reflect an exemplary record and were written by his supervisor, Public Works Administrator Dan Wade, but Wade may have had a conflict of interest. His wife, Sue, worked in Bill Knowles' office and has since retired.

Rebecca Hunter, the county's director of human resources, said she could see how Sue Wade's employment in Bill Knowles' office "could create the appearance" of a conflict when it came to Dan Wade evaluating Alan Knowles.

Dan Wade said his wife's employment did not color the evaluations. "Absolutely not," he said.

He also said he agrees with the mayor's decision to suspend Alan Knowles.

Ramsey said he has confidence in Dan Wade's ability to fairly judge Alan Knowles.

"If you know Dan Wade, you'd know Dan would be fair about it," Ramsey said.

Other county commissioners said they agree with Ramsey's decision to suspend Alan Knowles.

"As far as I'm concerned it's a dead issue," Commissioner Tim Boyd said. "That was Mayor Ramsey's decision. I really don't want to hear anything else about this situation."

Commissioner Larry Henry called Ramsey's decision "fair and reasonable."

"He knew he had to do some kind of disciplinary action," Henry said.

Commissioner Jim Coppinger said he would not comment because Alan Knowles' has the option to appeal.

Commissioner Joe Graham said he would not comment because he does not know if he will be asked to serve on the commission's Ethics Committee, which may look into the situation if a formal complaint is filed.

Chairman Fred Skillern declined to comment for a similar reason.

"If I'm serving on the Ethics Committee I don't want to pre-say anything before I sit down and judge," he said.

Officials at the County Commission office said no one has filed a formal ethics complaint.

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