Commissioner says Congressman Duncan warned him about son

Knox County commissioner says Congressman Duncan warned him about son

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Commissioner Larry Smith says the conversation was "...about his son and he wasn't too happy. He told me to leave his son alone. His exact words were, 'Stay away from my son.'" Commissioner Larry Smith says the conversation was "...about his son and he wasn't too happy. He told me to leave his son alone. His exact words were, 'Stay away from my son.'"
Congressman John Duncan, Jr. Congressman John Duncan, Jr.
"I've talked to my father about this issue plenty of times, but we haven't talked about his conversation he's had with anybody about it," Trustee John Duncan said. "I've talked to my father about this issue plenty of times, but we haven't talked about his conversation he's had with anybody about it," Trustee John Duncan said.

By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County Commissioner R. Larry Smith claims Tennessee Congressman John Duncan, Jr. gave him a verbal warning following controversy about bonuses in the county trustee's office run by Duncan's son.

Trustee John Duncan III paid himself and his employees for continuing education classes. Most of it was connected to the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services (CTAS) program.

Commissioner Larry Smith has been vocal about wanting Duncan to pay back the tens of thousands in bonuses for the educational course they have yet to receive certification for.

"It was last week he (Congressman Duncan) called me into his office and it was a 15-minute talk," Smith said. He says the conversation was "...about his son and he wasn't too happy. He told me to leave his son alone. His exact words were, 'Stay away from my son.'"

Smith says it was unethical for Congressman Duncan to meddle on behalf of his son.

A spokesperson for the congressman released this statement after a 6 News inquiry: "Congressman Duncan had what he thought was a very friendly conversation with Larry Smith and he never said or implied in any way that he should stay away from his son. The thought never crossed his mind."

"I like Jimmy Duncan. Who doesn't like Jimmy Duncan, but I just think we are not in touch with reality," Smith said.

After repeated phone calls and visits to the trustee's office, Duncan sat down Wednesday with 6 News. 

"I am not aware of anything like that going on," Trustee Duncan said. "I've talked to my father about this issue plenty of times, but we haven't talked about his conversation he's had with anybody about it."

When asked if a conversation between his father and Commissioner Smith about him would be appropriate, Trustee Duncan said, "I think my father feels the same way I do. Commissioner Larry Smith is really doing a little bit of grandstanding and thinks he has a winning issue and is trying to drag it on."

However, the question is did Duncan violate a state statute when he awarded bonuses before certification?

"The way the statute reads, it plainly reads you must be a certified public administrator before you're entitled to any kind of incentive," said Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret.

The law director says the trustee's office broke the rules.

"I still stand strong that everything we did was in the scope of our authority," Trustee Duncan responded.

"Hopefully he wants to do the right thing because if he doesn't, he won't get re-elected," Smith said.

Trustee Duncan says as far as he's concerned, the issue is whether he's agreed to pay back the money. He says he owes $6,000 and will write a check to Knox County very soon.

But when asked when all of the $39,000 will be repaid, there wasn't a definite timeline, as of Wednesday. 

Knox County Register of Deeds Sherry Witt is defending the CTAS program and is opposed to Smith's efforts to repeal the bonuses.

"They are acting like this is new," Witt said. "It's been in the budget for quite some time now. The commissioners look at it in the budget. They look at our salary suits. This is something they have authorized us to do, and one person messed up. This person, when they messed up, they have tried to pay restitution. They're trying to do what they think is the right thing to do. The rest of us are kind of getting thrown here, but it's just a great, great service that CTAS provides."

Five Knox County fee offices handed out bonuses resulting from CTAS over the past two years.

The trustee's office handed out the most at $84,000. Trustee Duncan gave out $60,000 of the $84,000. In all $140,436 was paid. 

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