Knox Co. trustee returns bonus for continuing education program

Knox County trustee returns bonus for continuing education program

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Trustee John Duncan Trustee John Duncan

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County Trustee John Duncan III says Thursday he has paid back the county for a bonus he gave himself in connection to a continuing education program. However, the county law director says he turned the matter over to the district attorney general's office.

The trustee's announcement comes a day after county Commissioner R. Larry Smith said Duncan's father, Congressman John Duncan, Jr., warned him to leave his son alone. Smith had called for the trustee to pay back the county.

The commissioner says he received a tip that someone in the trustee's office may have taken an online state test for others and then tried to cover it up.

Smith says the allegations include computer files being destroyed and other evidence. The employee's computer has been seized.

The commissioner also alerted county Mayor Tim Burchett about the allegations.

Smith believes this latest issue goes beyond the trustee. "It's not just Mr. Duncan, what we're talking about, so the whole thing is not going to fall just on his lap," he said.

County Law Director Joe Jarret says he turned the matter over to the Knox County District Attorney General's Office, which wouldn't confirm or deny the investigation.

Trustee Duncan released a statement Thursday saying:

"It was my impression upon taking office that incentive payments could be made to those participating in continuing education programs as long as efforts were being made to complete the programs. These payments were also authorized by the county's budget procedures. Although, I along with other employees, spent a considerable amount of time on the coursework, I now believe I made a mistake in accepting and authorizing those payments.

I have voluntarily paid back to Knox County every nickel of the money I received. Similarly, our employees have either paid back or will immediately pay back payments they received. Furthermore, as an additional step to erase any misconceptions, the Trustee's office will no longer participate in the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service program. No additional incentive payments shall be made during the remainder of my term for participation, completion or involvement in any type of continuing education programs. While my position on this is what I feel is the right thing to do for the trustee's office given the circumstances, this particular program is a fine one that I'm sure other county offices are using and finding worthwhile.

I'm proud of the work of our office in increasing county revenues while reducing expenses, and I look forward to continuing our hard work for the people of Knox County. And we will certainly cooperate fully with any branch of county government regarding any of the operations of our office."

No one from the trustee's office returned 6 News' phone calls Thursday for further comment.

Most of the bonus payments were connected to the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Services (CTAS) program.

Trustee Duncan awarded $60,000 in bonuses to six staffers and himself for taking the online courses. Some of the money was paid before the course work was completed.

The trustee first gave out bonuses in December 2010 and then a second time in October 2011.

As of Friday, all six trustee's staff members had returned their bonuses.

Commissioner Smith says he's also forming a committee to look into whether the county should continue participate in the CTAS program.

Discussion of the trustee payments is scheduled to take place during county commission's meeting on Monday. 

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