Heathington Says Knowles Paying "Outrageous Salaries To Family, Others; Knowles Says Charges "Inflammatory"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Republican County Clerk candidate Chester Heathington on Thursday charged that longtime County Clerk Bill Knowles "is paying outrageous salaries to his family members and other staff."

Mr. Knowles, who has been county clerk since 1974, said the Heathington charges were "inflammatory." He defended his pay levels and the use of three family members.

Mr. Heathington said, "The average annual salary in the Hamilton County Clerk's office is $42,833. The office employs 60 clerical workers, including at least four members of the Bill Knowles family.

"By comparison, general office clerks working in similar governmental offices in Chattanooga earn about $22,630 for a typical 40-hour work week or about $10.88 per hour."

The candidate said Mr. Knowles' son earns $83,000 as an administrator in the office. He said other family members employed including a son-in-law (inventory control clerk at $59,190), and grandson (mail clerk at $30,833.

He said, "We had the Ming Dynasty, then the Kennedy Dynasty and now the Knowles Dynasty. The taxpayers ought to be rising up in revolt."

Mr. Heathington said, "Mr. Knowles laid off several lower-paid career employees in what he called 'an agonizing process that led to some loss of sleep.'

"In May, Mr. Knowles requested the County Commission to return $200,000 in prior excess fees collected by his office due to a dramatic decrease in revenue. He blamed the current economic recession, almost 20,000 less vehicle registrations and less marriage or driver license transactions for a $2 million drop in collections. In addition, the General Assembly turned collection of business license fees over to the state.

"However, the end result would be an overall increase of $97,000 in county funding, given the budget request of $1.73 million - $103,000 less than the current funding.

"The combined wages of the laid-off workers was less than the $215,000 cited and did not include any of the workers assigned to the defunct business license unit."

Mr. Knowles said, "Let me clarify regarding recent layoffs that the economic slow-down could not be ignored. Fiscal responsibility demanded I make tough, agonizing choices. In addition to the lay-offs in the declining areas of our operation, I have taken further steps to leave vacant positions unfilled. My pledge as County Clerk continues to be first-class customer service to taxpayers. We must live within our means.

"Mr. Heathington’s other statements lack accuracy and context. County Clerk staff compensation is commensurate to other Hamilton County fee offices. Constitutionally elected fee officials make appointments according to State law. Salaries are established annually in agreement with the County Mayor and are filed with the Court and the County Auditor’s office.

"My opponent’s charge about family members in the office is inflammatory. My 59-member staff includes three family members, and their compensation is equitable with qualifications and job responsibilities. Specifically, the Chief Administrator is a Certified Public Administrator and holds a graduate degree from the University of Tennessee with post-graduate work in public administration from Tennessee State University. The Inventory Control Clerk is a prudent appointment that saves tax dollars. Other large counties appoint multiple people for the same duties, so Hamilton County saves in salary and benefit costs. State policy is stringently enforced where no appointees are ever supervised by a family member.

"My opponent’s statement about average salary is grossly in error. In responding I don’t want to trivialize that many citizens find themselves unemployed or underemployed. He asserts the average salary is $22,000 annually, when in reality the average entry level is approximately $25,000.

"It was indicated that the County Clerk’s business tax office is defunct. This shows an outright lack of understanding of the very office he wishes to administer. The State law was changed placing collections under the Department of Revenue, but the County Clerk’s office still has the sole responsibility of issuing all business licenses.

"My opponent’s derogatory comments about the Knowles family is inappropriate. I am very proud of my family’s role in public service dating back to the 1930s.

"It is indeed an honor for me to continue in this position. I am proud of my record. It is my sincere request that the voters will enable me to continue my progressive leadership in the County Clerk’s office. For the facts about my service go to www.ElectKnowles.com."

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