County Parks Employees Penalized for Work On Private Properties
An investigation shows work was performed on behalf of former chief of staff and former parks director.
by jesse fox mayshark • december 16, 2020
UPDATE, 6:15 p.m. Dec. 16: This story has been updated with a quote from Paul White's attorney.
One Knox County Parks and Recreation employee has been terminated and another disciplined for performing work at private properties on county time, as part of an ongoing investigation into misuse of county resources.
County employees reportedly installed a children's playset for former Chief of Staff Bryan Hair on county time.
The work was reportedly performed on behalf of two former high-ranking county officials, former Chief of Staff Bryan Hair and former Senior Director of Parks and Recreation Paul White.
According to documents provided by Knox County, Parks and Recreation employee Gary “Mike” Edsell was terminated on Tuesday, and his colleague Joe Inman was given a 10-day suspension without pay and a 10 percent pay cut.
A cell phone video obtained by Compass appears to show Inman and Edsell in the backyard of Hair’s $500,000 West Knox County home in June, where county officials say they helped erect a playset that a neighbor had given Hair.
In the video, apparently sent to Hair, Inman jokes that Parks and Recreation is “the second hardest (working) department in Knox County,” after “the mayor’s office.” He then pans the phone to show a wooden playset over his shoulder. Metadata embedded in the video shows it was filmed at 10:17 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23 — a time that county pay records show Inman and Edsell were both on the clock as county employees.
County officials said Inman and Edsell also performed work at White’s direction at two other properties: one belonging to one of White’s relatives, and one belonging to another county employee who was reportedly not aware the work was done on county time.
Hair resigned in October and White was fired as part of an investigation into Parks and Recreation purchases. A golf cart purchased by the county at White’s direction had been kept at Hair’s house through the summer, in what Hair called “a lapse in judgment.”
Hair had been the top adviser to County Mayor Glenn Jacobs since Jacobs took office in 2018, and was one of the highest-paid employees in county government. The state Comptroller’s Office is conducting an investigation into the matter at Jacobs’ request.
In a statement Wednesday about the actions against Edsell and Inman, Jacobs said, “The Comptroller’s investigation is ongoing, but we’ve made some additional personnel changes based on what we’ve already learned. As I’ve said before, ethics are not ambiguous.”
The mayor added, “I hate to see anyone be reprimanded or lose their job, but public trust is fragile and I truly believe Knox County and its team members must be above reproach.”
Inman, a parks and trails supervisor for the department, has worked for the county since 2013. His personnel file shows positive performance evaluations. As part of his reprimand, his annual salary will be cut from $57,498.51 to $51,895.58. County officials said Inman had also been under consideration for a promotion, but is no longer.
Edsell has worked for the county as a plumber since 2013, and his salary was $61,516.78. His personnel file also shows generally positive performance reviews, but in 2017 he was reprimanded for taking a county-owned chainsaw home for personal use. He was suspended without pay for three days. (The saw had been assigned to Inman, who was the one who reported it missing.)
County officials said Edsell’s prior reprimand for misusing county property was taken into account in his termination. Inman did not have prior offenses.
The video obtained by Compass was apparently filmed by Inman in Hair’s backyard and was intended to be sent to Hair. Inman addresses Hair as “Chief,” a title many county employees used for the former chief of staff.
“Chief, good morning, we hope you’re enjoying the sunshine down there in South Florida,” Inman begins. Posts on Hair’s personal Facebook page, which has since been deleted, showed that Hair was on vacation in Florida with his family on June 23.
In the video, Inman and Edsell are relaxing in chairs in the yard. Apart from the close-up of the playset, Inman makes no direct reference to why the two county employees are at Hair’s house. Posts on Hair’s Facebook page in later months showed photographs of children playing on what appears to be the same playset.
County officials said they had no reason to believe any county materials were used in the playset, which was apparently a hand-me-down from a neighbor.
At the end of the June 23 video, Inman and Edsell offer a toast to Hair, “in fancy ways that only Knox County Parks could do.” He and Edsell then drink water out of a garden hose.
Neither Edsell, Inman nor Hair responded to messages for comment. David Burkhalter II, an attorney representing White, sent the following comments: "Mr. White denies any all wrongdoing and looks forward to clearing his name. We recently emailed a letter to Mayor Jacobs advising of our representation and requesting for Knox County to stop disseminating false information regarding Mr. White. "
Most county vehicles are equipped with GPS trackers that show their locations. However, on June 23 Inman and Edsell apparently signed out a truck without a tracker. Parks and Recreation has since ensured that all vehicles are equipped with them.
Editor’s Note: At the request of the state Comptroller’s Office in the course of its investigation, Jesse Fox Mayshark provided copies of the video featuring Inman and Edsell and screenshots from Bryan Hair’s Facebook page.