Chief of Staff Apologizes for ‘Lapse of Judgment’

Chief of Staff Apologizes for 'Lapse in Judgment'

Bryan Hair, right-hand adviser to County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, says he borrowed a county golf cart to help his injured wife.

by jesse fox mayshark • October 16, 2020

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Golf carts listed for sale in april at Jon's Golf cars in Sevierville that are the same year and model as those bought in may by Knox County parks and Recreation. (Photo from Facebook)

Two days after being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the chief of staff to Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs apologized in a statement Thursday night for what he called a “lapse in judgment.”

Knox County officials have also directed the Parks and Recreation Department to tighten up rules for clothing purchases.

Bryan Hair, who is Jacobs’ top adviser, said in a text message that he had borrowed a golf cart from Knox County Parks and Recreation in the spring when his wife injured her foot and had kept it through the summer.

In the text, Hair wrote:

“Towards the end of May, my wife broke her foot and I reached out to Parks & Rec to see if they had a cart I could borrow that was not being used. I was aware they had recently purchased carts for both Recreation and to use at the Festival of Lights to allow constituents that were unable to walk the paths, the ability to ride. I was told that they were not being used at the time since recreation was shutdown due to COVID so I borrowed the cart and used it through the summer until her foot healed and then returned it to Parks & Rec.

This was not only a mistake on my part, but a lapse in judgment. It was not wise for me to borrow something that belongs to the citizens of Knox County, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.”

Two golf carts purchased this spring by the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department are among the items being reviewed in an investigation of Hair and Paul White, senior director of parks and recreation.

According to invoices received through a records request submitted by Compass earlier this week, White signed off on the purchase of the carts from Jon’s Golf Cars in Sevierville on May 27. 

Asked about the use of the carts after their purchase, Chris Caldwell, the county’s finance director, said Thursday, “That’s an ongoing investigation, and we can’t comment.”

But, Caldwell added, “Both golf carts are now on county property.”

White and Hair were placed on administrative leave Tuesday pending an investigation being conducted by Pugh CPAs, the county’s external auditors.

Jacobs confirmed the existence of the investigation on Wednesday in response to questions from Compass, but he did not provide details except that he had been made aware of “potential wrongdoing.”

The used golf carts were purchased for $3,700 and $3,200. A post from April on the Facebook page of Jon’s Golf Cars shows either the vehicles in question or models exactly like them — 2005 Club Car carts with 48-volt batteries. 

A photo posted by Hair on his personal Facebook page over the summer showed him driving a golf cart around his West Knox neighborhood, and other photos showed the cart parked in his driveway. His wife was not in the cart in the photo Hair posted. (Hair has taken down his Facebook page since the investigation was announced.)

Boots and Bonuses

The county provided other documents in response to Compass records requests over the past two weeks, which show the purchases with county purchasing cards of several pairs of expensive hiking boots by Parks and Recreation employees this year at Elliott’s Boots on Western Avenue. 

Caldwell said the purchases were allowed because Parks and Recreation employees need hiking boots to conduct trail maintenance on House Mountain, a state natural area that’s managed by the county and includes steep rocky climbs.

Among the purchases was a $220 pair of Hoka brand boots for White, purchased just last month.

Another Parks and Recreation employee purchased a pair of Keen boots at Elliott’s last month for $150. Caldwell said those boots were actually purchased for Hair, because the chief of staff had been spending time overseeing work on the county’s Beaver Creek restoration project. But Caldwell said Hair had since returned the boots, unopened, and they are now being used by a Parks and Recreation employee who wears the same size.

In his statement Thursday night, Hair said of the boots, “Parks and Recreation bought me a pair of boots since I am heavily involved in the Beaver Creek project, however, I declined to accept them.”

County workers who need work boots for their jobs already qualify for new shoes every year or two years (depending on their positions) through the county’s “safety shoe” program overseen by the Risk Management division. Those boots are supposed to be steel-toed to provide maximum protection.

The purchases at Elliott’s by Parks and Recreation staff were separate from the safety shoe program. Caldwell said the purchases did not violate any county or departmental policies, but he said they did point to a need for guidelines about which employees qualify for specific kinds of apparel.

“Each department should have individual procedures on what they do,” Caldwell said. “We told Parks and Recreation last week that they need to have some procedures in place like Engineering and Public Works.”

Engineering and Public Works (EPW) allots $150 per employee each year for those whose jobs require special clothing, from jackets to rain pants to ball caps. A review by Compass of EPW apparel purchases for the last two years showed mostly bulk purchases of clothing in a range of sizes, bearing the county’s logo. They did not include individual purchases of expensive brands like those made at Elliott’s by Parks and Recreation staff.

Before entering county government with Jacobs in September 2018, Hair and White were co-workers at the Pigeon Forge-based Tennessee State Bank, where they were both vice presidents. White did not have prior experience working in parks and recreation.

Hair, one of the highest-paid employees in county government, has an annual salary of $170,635.66 a year. White’s salary is $115,823.76, but records show it has been augmented both years he’s been in county government with one-time bonuses of $4,200 in 2019 and $5,000 earlier this year.

Caldwell explained that the bonuses were to make up the gap between White’s salary and that of Chuck James, the county’s director of parks and the number two person in the Parks and Recreation department. James, who has been with the county for 29 years, makes $119,061 a year.

The bonus for the current fiscal year wasn’t scheduled to be paid until July, but in February, records show Hair sent a memo to Caldwell asking for an “advanced payment” for White. Caldwell said that was at White’s request.

Asked why Jacobs hadn’t just started White’s official salary higher than James’ so that he would be the top-paid person in the department, Caldwell said the idea was to give some deference to James’ seniority and allow White to incrementally move up the salary schedule over time.

CORRECTION, 10:35 p.m. 10/15/20: An earlier version of this story misidentified the boots that were bought for Hair. They were Keens, not Hokas.