Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said he's looking into an ethics complaint lodged against two county commissioners for their participation in a golf tournament event in August.
Armstrong declined to name the person who submitted the complaint Sept. 29. He said his investigator is now checking out details of the complaint to see if it can be verified.
"I've got to verify all these things. Then, we'll know what we've got," he said.
It likely won't be until the end of the month before the investigation is complete, he said. Because the Knox County Ethics Committee lacks two members, it'll then take some time before the committee can act - should Armstrong recommend that the complaint is truthful and verifiable, he said.
Commissioners Charles Busler and Bob Thomas, who also is a candidate for county mayor in 2018, took part Aug. 16 in the Knoxville News Sentinel Open pro-am event.
Ticket fees were provided free of charge by the PGA to Priority Ambulance, which has been viewed as a potential bidder for a county contract.
Related: Commissioners address golfing outing
Golfers who took part in the event, including Busler and Thomas, also got a goodie bag that included a $500 voucher to be redeemed at the tournament's merchandise tent.
On Aug. 21, Busler raised questions at a commission work session about the quality of ambulance provider AMR's service. He said some constituents had complained of being double-billed for services.
Commissioners at the time were discussing whether they wanted to renew the county's contract with AMR for ambulance services. AMR has an option for two renewals and it sought last summer to begin the renewal process.
Commissioners decided after lengthy debate Aug. 28 to renew the county ambulance contract with AMR. Busler and Thomas were among four commissioners who voted no. Thomas said he was concerned with the company's leadership and staffing commitment after AMR was acquired by multinational private equity firm KKR & Co. for $2.4 billion.
Busler and Thomas have told 10News they don't think they did anything wrong or unethical.
Thomas said he played in the group with tickets provided to Priority because he was asked by friends.
Busler also said that since the entry to the pro-am was comped by the tournament, not Priority, there was no conflict of interest. Priority didn't pay for the tickets, he said.
Thomas has said his candidacy for mayor is part of the issue.
"Is there politics behind this? Absolutely. I'm a big boy. We'll move forward," he said.
Thomas said to ensure that there's no perception that he benefited from the $500 pro-shop voucher, he wrote a $500 check to the Red Cross for hurricane relief.
If there is indeed an ethical "conundrum," Armstrong said, then Busler and Thomas will be notified as will the County Commission. It would be up to commission to decide if they wanted to take any formal action.
The county's ethics policy says public officials can't accept anything of value in consideration for a vote.
It continues: "Further, no employee or public official shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, on behalf of himself or herself or any member of the employee’s household any gift, including but not limited to any gratuity, service, favor, food, entertainment, lodging, transportation, or any other thing of monetary value from any person or entity that has or is seeking to obtain, contractual or other business or financial relations with Knox County..."
The Ethics Committee formally receives allegations of ethics violations. It can refer an issue to the subject's employer or even to law enforcement if necessary.
Armstrong said if he had been put in the same position as Busler and Thomas, he would have turned down the offer of golf benefits. That way he avoids even the appearance of a potential conflict, he said.
But he said his personal stance doesn't mean that what Busler and Thomas did was wrong.