Under the agreement, Knox County paid former director Paul White $150,000 and issued “an agreed-upon positive press release to be issued by Knox County, according to White’s attorney, David A. Burkhalter II.
The agreement was announced Nov. 22, just more than 2 years after Knox County Parks and Recreation Director Paul White was fired.
“Paul White was terminated for his management style and the termination had nothing to do with misappropriation of funds or Knox County property,” said Abbey Harris, Knox County deputy communications director, in the county’s press release announcing the agreement had been reached.
White was placed on leave on Oct. 15, 2020 pending the outcome of an investigation into potential wrongdoing within the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department. He was terminated four days later.
White’s lawsuit against the county is now dismissed, and the county said his termination is due solely to his management style — with no mention of the financial allegations raised during a State Comptroller’s investigation.
The Comptroller’s investigation found that White had signed for the purchase of two golf carts — one of which was delivered to a private residence.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ now-former Chief of Staff Bryan Hair later apologized for borrowing a county-owned golf cart to use at his home while his wife recovered from a broken foot.
White was also accused of signing off on work done on private vehicles owned by the senior director of the parks and recreation department and the use of county tools and vehicles on private property outside of Knox County, according to the Comptroller’s investigative report.
“Knox County’s prior Press Releases about the Parks and Recreation Department inaccurately linked Mr. White’s termination to the former Chief of Staff, Bryan Hair, which resulted in multiple negative news stories,” Burkhalter said.
Knox County administration said in Tuesday’s press release that in the early stages of the investigation, “significant concerns” arose about Paul White’s management style and the “hostile work environment he was fostering.”
The county released quotes from interviews that the administration says show “specific examples” that led to the termination of White’s employment.
WATE 6 requested and received full transcripts of interviews with staff during the internal investigation into White. Staff shared information about their interactions with White in his role as a manager.
“I’m frustrated and angry our employees had to deal with bullying, harassment, embarrassment, and toxicity. I can’t undo what happened but am proud of how our team responded and the changes that resulted. Ultimately, our Parks & Recreation department is in a much better place today,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs on Tuesday.
EDITORS NOTE: This story is updated with additional information.