Knox County, former employee exchange allegations, insults following misconduct scandal, firing

A former county employee alleges he was pressured by Mayor Jacobs to lie to investigators. County officials call him a liar.
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 4:35 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs sent employees to work at his home on company time and pressured another employee to lie about an ethics investigation, according to court documents filed by former Parks and Recreation Director Paul White.

County officials responded to the allegations, calling White a, “scumbag liar.”

The documents stem from a lawsuit filed by White, which was settled in late November, netting White a $150,000 payout from the county. The suit documented the details of an ethics scandal, during which a county employee, Bryan Hair, borrowed a county-owned golf cart for months while his wife was recovering from a foot injury.

According to the documents, Jacobs sent employees to work at his home on county time on June 22, 2020. The documents said that employees were sent to Jacobs’ home to help remove a snake from the property, spending around two hours at the house.

Those claims were disputed by the county, however. Abbey Harris, a representative for Knox County, told WVLT News that White saw a Facebook post from Jacobs’ wife about the snake while driving with two other employees on a lunch break. Since they were near Jacobs’ home, Harris said, White repeatedly called Jacobs, who was in a meeting, to offer to remove the snake.

“Because the mayor was in a meeting, he told Paul to call [Jacobs’ wife] to discuss it. He did not INSTRUCT him to go to the house to remove the snake or MAKE him do so,” Harris said. “The only reason the mayor knew about the snake was because Paul White interrupted a meeting to tell him about it and offer removal services.”

Harris added that the snake removal only took ten minutes, not two hours. She also added that since the removal happened on the employees’ lunch break, it was not on county time.

Hair’s violation regarding the golf cart and other misconduct allegations was being investigated by the state Comptroller’s Office and Pugh & Associates, a private firm. According to the findings of the investigation, Jacobs was not the only county official to have employees work for him on county time.

The investigation states that Hair himself had employees working for him, on top of the issue with the golf cart. Specifically, county officials confirmed that employees had moved a playset for Hair, on top of delivering the golf cart to his home.

County officials also confirmed that employees did work for White. Specifically, employees went to White’s mother’s home in Claiborne County to cut up a tree on her property.

“Sadly, this employee may have accepted help without knowing about who would do the work or when it would be done. We feel that the employee was collateral damage to the poor choices Paul White made,” Harris told WVLT News.

Circling back to the golf cart investigation, the documents also accused Jacobs of trying to pressure White into lying to state investigators. Prior to the investigation, White had tried to make county officials, including Jacobs, aware of Hair using the county’s golf cart.

White allegedly told Human Resources Director Marcus Kennedy about the golf cart in July 2020. White followed that up in September of 2020 by telling county Finance Director Chris Caldwell about the violation, who said he would bring it up with Jacobs.

These claims were also disputed by Knox County officials. Harris told WVLT News that the investigation was sparked by an anonymous email to Jacobs about White’s role in “helping to steal a golf cart.”

“It is emphatically untrue that Paul White reported any misuse of property (his own or Bryan Hair’s) to anyone,” Harris said. “Just hours after purchasing the golf carts, Paul White had one delivered directly to Hair’s house and then communicated with him via text message about how much they loved and appreciated each other and what good friends they were.”

According to the documents, Hair returned the golf cart in the beginning of October, around five months after acquiring it. He also intended to tell investigators he had only had it for a few weeks, according to the suit.

The conversation of how long Hair had used the golf cart reached its boiling point on Oct. 12, according to White. During a private conversation between White and Jacobs, the mayor allegedly asked White multiple times, “did Bryan [Hair] have the golf cart for only a couple of weeks?”

During that conversation, Jacobs allegedly told White he was “not interested in the truth” about how long Hair had been using the golf cart.

White did not comply with what he said was a pressuring tactic, aimed at encouraging him to lie to investigators.

As the conversation continued, the documents read, Jacobs, “became visibly angry and upset, his face turned bright red, and he violently smacked his desk with a closed fist, as he immediately cut the [White] off, told [White] to ‘shut the f--k up.’”

Harris again denied these claims, saying, “the mayor NEVER asked Paul White to lie about how long Bryan Hair had the golf cart. When he spoke to Paul White, he questioned how long Bryan Hair had the golf cart because the information he was hearing from both parties was inconsistent.”

Harris was not able to confirm that Jacobs never raised his voice or pounded on his desk, but she did say that, “there is ample evidence to prove that Paul White is an unreliable resource and most, if not all, of the allegations made in his complaint are false.”

Jacobs was not the only county official who tried to pressure White, according to the suit. Hair himself allegedly told White, “do not say how long I had the golf cart to the investigators,” after White’s conversation with Jacobs.

White was dismissed from the county shortly after. The documents alleged that the county sent press releases to the media in 2020 that purposely made it look like White was involved in the golf cart scandal. In retaliation, White filed the suit with the county. In November of 2022, the suit was settled.

A part of the settlement required the county to send out a press release dissolving White of any responsibility involving the golf cart situation, which county officials did. The county then followed up that original release with another, one that outlined the reasons for White’s firing.

According to that second release, White was fired for creating a toxic work environment, citing several cases of sexual or racially-charged comments. The release and WVLT’s coverage included interviews with employees who worked with and for White, many of whom alleged that White had been unpleasant to work with.

After that release was sent out, a representative with Burkhalter Law, the firm that represented White in the original suit, told media outlets that White was “evaluating legal options” following the “horrible hit-job.”

Following the latest round of allegations, WVLT News reached out to Mike Donila, another public information representative for the county. He provided the following statement on White:

“Please keep in mind that Paul White may very well be one of the biggest scumbag liars I’ve ever met... To put trust in Paul is very dangerous. I would be wary of him as a source and his allegations. He’s an unreliable narrator.”

Mike Donila

WVLT News reached out to Burkhalter Law for a follow-up comment on both the county stating that White was lying in the suit and the sexual and racial allegations against him. David Burkhalter provided the following statement:

“Paul White filed suit against Knox County after he was wrongfully terminated for fighting corruption, and his case was recently settled for $150,000. Mr. White stands by what was alleged in the suit. The Complaint and Amended Complaint are all public record, and we urge anyone with an interest to review the same.

Obviously, a few Knox County officials are angry at Mr. White for what was exposed in the lawsuit and now wish to defame him in press by making scurrilous claims. The facts don’t lie. There are at least 150,000 reasons to know Mr. White told the truth.

No government official should ever be permitted to use their office to attack a fellow citizen for speaking out against corruption. I hope our Mayor recognizes this fact, and takes appropriate action against those responsible.

Mr. White wishes to move on with his life, and he requests for Knox County to leave him alone.”

David Burkhalter

The statement addressed the suit and the statements provided by Knox County, but did not address the allegations from employees about the work environment White reportedly created.

Hair resigned in October of 2020, and was indicted on one count of official misconduct, which he pled guilty to.