A judge today gave former Trustee John Duncan III a chance to wipe a felony charge off his record, reports the News Sentinel.
Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz granted Duncan judicial diversion at a brief sentencing hearing this morning.
If Duncan obeys the law over the next year, he will be allowed to ask a court to erase the official misconduct charge off his record.
Duncan, the son of U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. and nephew of state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, pleaded guilty earlier this year to authorizing bonuses of $3000 to himself and four other staffers in 2010 for training none had completed.
He doled out more bonuses for uncompleted training the following year.
Under a professional administration certificate training program, county employees and office holders can earn bonuses for completing training offered at the University if Tennessee and through the County Technical Assistance Service.
County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
Craig Leuthold, a former Knox County commissioner, was named by the current Knox County Commission Monday as trustee, filling the seat vacated when John J. Duncan III resigned July 2 after pleading guilty to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
From the News Sentinel: Leuthold said he would open the bookkeeping.
“I’m going to work toward changing morale,” he said. “I’m going to be transparent.”
Former Trustee Mike Lowe held office from 1994 until he was term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007. He surrendered to authorities in April 2012 amid grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury also indicted four others from the county’s tax collection department.
Leuthold worked under Lowe, primarily in satellite offices. He said he would draw on his familiarity with the office in his approach during his term that lasts slightly more than a year. The office will be up for election in August 2014.
Given the troubled history of the office, commissioners wanted candidates to promise openness. They differed on whether they wanted a political outsider or someone connected to county government.
Monday’s discussions included some political theatrics by commissioners, including a postponement proposal to allow absent Commissioner Mike Brown to join in the vote in August.
Felonies and criminal charges from past Knox County trustees are preventing the interim trustee from obtaining the bonding she needs to fully operate, according to the News Sentinel. The Hartford, the bonding company for the Knox County Trustee’s Office, notified the county that it wouldn’t bond Kristin Phillips, the county’s acting trustee, until the county provided more information on the position.
“That causes great consternation,” Tony Norman, chairman of the Knox County Commission, said. “That affects their daily practices there.”
The lack of the $18.5 million bond for the seat keeps the trustee from investing the county’s tax money and similar jobs. The bond, required for the officeholder, is intended to protect the public from failure to perform duty or malfeasance.
…Phillips became acting trustee after the resignation of the previous officeholder, John J. Duncan III. Duncan pleaded guilty on July 2 to a low-level felony for paying himself and staffers more than $18,000 in bonuses he knew they didn’t earn.
Before him, Mike Lowe, who was trustee from 1994 until being term-limited by the state Supreme Court in 2007, surrendered to authorities in April 2012 following grand jury indictments on multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000. The grand jury indicted four others who worked in the county’s tax collection department. Lowe’s trial is set for 2014.
Knox County Trustee John Duncan III pleaded guilty today in Criminal Court to a felony charge of official misconduct and resigned from office, reports the News Sentinel. He entered the plea by information, which means he agreed to skip a grand jury review.
He received a one-year probation and may apply for diversion.
He must cooperate with “this” and “any other probes,” according to his plea agreement taken by Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz.
His father, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, said after the hearing, “We can rely on our faith to get on with our future.”
He declined further comment.
Prosecutor Bill Bright said that Duncan had then-attorney Chad Tindell file a salary lawsuit on Sept. 30, 2010, approving bonuses of $3,000 each for himself and five others, and a $2,000 bonus for a sixth staffer for completing a training program that none of them had, in fact, completed.
Duncan, as part of the plea, is specifically agreeing to participate in the probes of the other employees who received bonuses who have not yet been charged.
Bright alleged that Duncan lied to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation by saying that no one ever told him that it was improper to collect bonuses before completion of the training program.
However, three employees told the TBI that they had, in fact, warned Duncan against trying to collect bonuses without having completed the training.
In February, Tindell received judicial diversion on a misdemeanor charge connected to his participation in the bonus program that let some employees in the Trustee’s Office receive extra money for educational studies they never completed. Tindell worked more than two years as the tax attorney for the Trustee’s Office before leaving early this year. He can seek to wipe his record clean if he abides by the terms of his probation.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes told the Knox County Commission that the possibility of a bill imposing term limits on school board members getting through the Legislature are poor, reports the News Sentinel. Haynes, R-Knoxville, told the commission that a Tennessee law allowing term limits for school board members would be subject to general application across the state (not just limited to Knox County).
“And that, in my opinion, presents a challenge in getting a piece of legislation passed,” Haynes said during a commission work session. Commission uses work sessions to discuss future action items. The body’s next legislative meeting is June 24.
A 15-bill limit that caps what legislators can introduce is another block on term limits, he said.
“We want to use it on something that is productive,” he said.
Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith was not pleased to hear Haynes’ message.
“Personally, I think those are lame excuses,” he said. “I think it can be done.”
Haynes replied he wasn’t offering his own opinion.
“This is what my lawyers drew up,” he said.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors in Knoxville say former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe paid employees who never performed work.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14wTIJO ) reported documents recently filed in Knox County Criminal Court allege Lowe and two former aides conducted a “continuous larcenous scheme” in which ghost employees were on the payroll.
Lowe, Delbert Morgan and Ray Mubarak face multiple theft charges.
A bill of particulars filed by the district attorney’s office alleges Morgan bilked taxpayers out of nearly $197,000 by not showing up for work over four years.
The newspaper said Gregory P. Isaacs, Lowe’s lawyer, and Tom Dillard, Mubarak’s lawyer, declined comment Tuesday. Jeff Daniel, Morgan’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In April 2012, when indictments were returned, Isaacs said Lowe strongly denied the allegations.
State legislation that would give local governments the power to create partisan school board elections is dead, reports the News Sentinel. Sen. Becky Massey and state Rep. Bill Dunn, both Knoxville Republicans, confirmed Thursday that because the Knox County Commission tabled a resolution to support the proposal, they will not present the bill (HB420), which they sponsored, before committee.
“I think the plan is that maybe (the commission) will look a little more into it over the next several months, but I’m not going to do anything with the bill,” said Massey.
The senator added that she and Dunn initially agreed to push the bill if the commission “had strong feelings,” but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Officials with the Knox County Board of Education said state lawmakers and the commission did the right thing.
“I’m glad everyone is taking a common sense approach to this,” school board member Indya Kincannon said. “We don’t need more partisanship. We have plenty of issues and challenges that we’re facing in our community and schools.”
School board Vice Chairwoman Lynne Fugate agreed.
“I’m not sure how partisanship would actually improve education for the children in Tennessee,” she said. “Without it . . . helps keep the focus on education and not on politics.”
…After Commissioner Mike Hammond argued last Monday that he wanted public hearings before approving a resolution expressing support of partisan school board races, the commission tabled the matter in a 6-5 vote.
Later, Hammond acknowledged that the board would probably not discuss it further until the state takes action.
But, the General Assembly wants to adjourn by April 19. And the only way for the commission to revisit the proposal within 90 days is if someone on the prevailing side wants to bring it back, and only if the official gets two-thirds support to do so from the 11-member commission.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two collectors in Knoxville are trying to figure out what do with their latest acquisition: about 260 ballots from the 1864 Presidential election, most of which were cast for Abraham Lincoln.
Cole Piper of Knoxville said he and collecting partner Andy Simon of Maryville would probably sort through the items to find the ones they want to keep and may offer the rest to others.
Piper told the Knoxville News Sentinel (full story, by Mal Alder, HERE) that he and Simon bid $8,000 to purchase the collection of ballots, which were auctioned in Maryville last month. He said finding more than one ballot from the election is rare.
Most of the votes went to Lincoln and his running mate, Andrew Johnson, but 32 went to Gen. George McClellan and his running mate, George Pendleton.
Knox County Schools’ chief security officer admitted Friday that he twice went on trips with the president of a security system firm under fire for shoddy workmanship, reports the News Sentinel. Chief Security Officer Steve Griffin initially denied in an interview Friday afternoon — at which School Superintendent Jim McIntyre was present — that he had ever traveled with Mike Walker, who is president of Professional Security Consultants and Design.
Griffin said the pair had lunched together a few times after Walker and his firm were awarded a contract to install and monitor school security systems for Knox County schools but denied they were pals or the relationship unduly influenced his push to have that same firm carry out work that is now the subject of a lawsuit.
“I know him,” Griffin said. “I didn’t know him until he started working in the schools.” An hour later, Griffin phoned the News Sentinel and said, “I have a confession.”
Griffin then admitted that he had traveled with Walker to a NASCAR race in Bristol for which Walker provided the tickets. He also said the pair traveled together to Fentress County for a “deer camp.”
See also related story on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett pushing for an audit of the school security system.