(WBIR - Knoxville) A Knox County commissioner sharply criticized the business practices of the school system, including its handling of a secretary who has now been on paid administrative leave for more than two years.
During Monday's work session of the Knox County Commission, commissioner Tony Norman said he wants a forensic audit to ensure business is done the right way at the central office of Knox County Schools.
"It is an emotional response that we're negligent if we don't check," said Norman. "Those are things like this latest situation with Ms. Needham and the two year administrative leave, or course."
Norman was referring to 51-year-old Tina Needham, the secretary with the Knox County Schools central office who has been on paid administrative leave since July 2012. Knox County Schools says it cannot provide details on why Norman is on paid leave due to the HIPAA medical privacy laws.
The Knox County Law Department sent Needham a letter last November that referred to some type of "disturbance" in April 2012. The letter also offered Needham $10,000 to resign and agree not to sue the county. Needham did not take the deal and remains on paid leave with an annual salary of $27,555.
Whatever the reason for Needham initially being placed on leave, the big question is why the matter has been unresolved after more than two years and a month.
"This is a personnel matter that's very complex," said Doug Harris, a member of the Knox County Board of Education. "I operate a large business and I can tell you, sometimes personnel matters take a long time to rectify and come to a conclusion. I think that's the case in this situation. I'm hoping we can wrap it up as soon as possible for the taxpayers' sake and the employee's sake."
Harris said he disagrees with the analysis of Norman and other commissioners who have criticized the business practices of the central office of Knox County Schools. Harris said his constituents in the county's 3rd district know he and other board members are doing the right thing.
"They trust that as a board member and as someone who has got some qualifications and experience, that we're handling these situations. And we don't need to be second-guessed by the commission on every little issue that comes up," said Harris. "I think a lot of this has become politicized and it is unfortunate."
Nonetheless, Norman made it clear he believes the school system needs another set of eyes to keep it in check.
"I think the goal here is eventually, there will be a forensic audit of the school system," said Norman.
Questions about proper procedure
There is some question regarding proper procedure for how Needham was placed on paid leave in the first place. Specifically, there are questions about the section of the Knox County Board of Education's handbook on human resources that was cited by school officials as the basis for Needham's leave.
The section cited is Policy GBK on "Administrative Suspension." The procedure for that policy deals primarily with placing someone on leave pending an investigation. It also mentions issues that require the involvement of the Department of Children's Services (DCS). It does not appear to address anything related to someone being placed on prolonged leave due to matters involving HIPAA.
10News has asked the Knox County Schools system for clarification.