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Ethics complaint filed against 2 Knox County commissioners

The Knox County Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to hold a hearing on an ethics complaint against Knox County Commissioners Bob Thomas and Charles Busler.

"Our job today was to not determine if that in fact happened but merely to decide if he stated an actual violation of the code," Johnathan Cooper, chair of the Knox County Ethics Committee, said. 

Cooper said the vote does not imply guilty to either commissioner, but it does open the floor to a closer examination of the claims.

"At this point, we are going to conduct additional review and allow the parties an opportunity to present evidence and documents and argument if they so choose to do so," Cooper said. "I have been on the committee now for almost three years and this is the first complaint I am aware of that has made it to this point."

In less than a month, committee members will discuss and decide if the proof shows that Busler and Thomas, who is also running for Knox County Mayor, did anything unethical, by accepting gifts of value and failing to disclose that they had played on the same golf team as Priority Ambulance a week before the pair voted in favor of re-bidding ambulance contracts.

"I was left in the spot where I had to decide, is this the right thing to do or not? And if I believe this is an ethics violation and I don't file a complaint, it's the same thing as me being an accomplice to it, right?" Bo Bennett, the complainant and former Knox County Commission candidate, said. 

The hearing will be held on April 4 in Knoxville's City-County Building. The burden of proof falls on the complainant, but the people accused in the complaint also have a chance to respond and provide counter arguments.

"That is an opportunity for Mr. Bennett, the individual who filed the complaint, to present evidence or argument for the committee to consider in support of his claim," Cooper said. "It's also an opportunity for the respondents to present any counter arguments or file any answer in response to the claim."

So far the committee has not seen any evidence that would make these allegations true, but that could all change on the April 4 hearing when Bennett is expected to present his proof. 

"I'm going to provide the same information that I did in the complaint," Bennett said. "You have Facebook posts and news articles where they admitted that they played at this event and that they played on this team. Part of the law director's response actually cited the Priority Ambulance to the government relations director that they were in fact on that team, and that's really all it is. It's up to the ethics committee to decide if it's a violation and move forward from that."

The commissioners have to vote unanimously to find either commissioner guilty of violating the code of ethics.


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