KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A little more than a year since he was fired amid a misconduct investigation by the county and the State Comptroller’s Office, the former Knox County Parks & Rec senior director Paul White is suing his former employer.

White’s lawsuit alleges he did not grant the former county chief of staff permission to use a county-owned golf cart, but that another director did.

During the investigation last year, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ chief of staff Bryan Hair resigned. White declined the opportunity to resign, according to a release from the mayor’s office in October 2020. The two had been placed on administrative leave after potential wrongdoing was being investigated; this involved Hair’s borrowing of a county-owned golf cart to use at his home while his wife recovered from a broken foot.

White was hired by the county as the senior director of the Knox County Parks & Recreation Department in September 2018. Court documents filed in the lawsuit state White was never written up for any disciplinary reason during his employment. The documents also detail how another employee at the time was the director of Parks & Rec while White was the senior director – and alleges that White’s job description as “senior” director of Parks & Rec “did not accurately reflect (his) actual job responsibilities and duties.”

The court documents also allege the director of Parks & Rec, Chuck James, was the “figurehead” of the county’s parks and recreation department because he had worked in the county for 30-plus years and was a personal friend of Mayor Jacobs, allegedly leading to decision-making issues to circumvent White’s authority.

The lawsuit also alleges White initially denied Hair the use of a county golf cart; “however, the Chief of Staff, Bryan Hair, refused to take ‘no’ for an answer, and he thereafter sought permission from the ‘Director’ of Parks and Recreation, Chuck James, to allow Hair the use of one of the golf carts at this personal residence, and James granted Hair’s request and arranged for the golf cart to be delivered to Hair’s personal residence using Defendant’s property and employee’s to make this ‘free’ delivery for Hair.”

The county mayor’s office denied the lawsuit’s claims and pointed out other issues not shared in the suit.

On Monday, Mayor Jacobs’ office issued the following statement:

“Although we don’t normally comment on open litigation, referring it instead to the law department, we do believe this is clearly a situation in which an attorney has not done enough homework on his client, Paul White.

“The complaint filed on Paul White’s behalf is a work of fiction and there will be plenty of people lined up to testify about his tyrannical leadership in Parks and Recreation. Paul White has long said that if he were to be fired, he would seek a settlement, so we look forward to Paul White taking the stand. Additionally, we question his identification as a whistleblower when the State Comptroller’s report said that county employees worked on vehicles owned by this ‘Parks and Recreation Senior Director and members of his family’ using county equipment, the maintenance shop, and county time.

“And, in early July 2020, county employees ‘were instructed to travel to Claiborne County, during county work hours, to cut up a tree’ on the property owned by this Senior Director’s relative. This specific use of ‘a county truck and county chainsaws’ took about an hour and occurred in the same month Paul White allegedly first complained about the misuse of Parks and Recreation property and employees for personal benefit and gain. Odd he left out that he and his own family members were additional beneficiaries. Again, we welcome Paul White to take the stand and testify under oath.

“The Mayor is deeply apologetic that the wrongdoings of the individuals involved in this situation continue to plague the citizens of Knox County, deterring attention away from more important issues.”

The law firm representing White released the following statement in response:

“We reviewed the statement to the press from the Mayor’s office regarding Paul White’s Wrongful Discharge/Civil Rights lawsuit against the county. It is unfortunate that the Mayor has chosen to further attack Paul in the press, but given how Paul was treated after he blew the whistle on corruption, it is no surprise. Paul refuses to be bullied by such tactics, he stands by the allegations in the complaint, and he will press full steam ahead with his lawsuit. At the end of the day, Paul expects to be fully vindicated and that truth and justice will prevail.”

The Office of David Burkhalter, II, Esq. The Burkhalter Law Firm, P.C.

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