Committee recommends firing Knox County internal auditor

8:07 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
  • Richard Walls, August 2009
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(WBIR - Knoxville)   Tuesday the Knox County Audit Committee officially recommended firing the county's long-time internal auditor. 

The committee voted 4-to-1 in favor of asking the County Commission to fire Richard Walls.  Committee members say Walls did not do anything illegal or inappropriate. However, it is what Walls did not do while performing the auditor's duties that makes some committee members think he should be replaced.

"The quantity of his work is quite limited in my opinion," said Knox County Audit Committee chairman Joe Carcello.  "He only did three audits all of last year, which is a very low amount for the amount of money being spent on those responsibilities."

Carcello said there was a prevailing belief among the committee that Walls should be more productive and prioritize.

"Where he focuses his time is not where the county has the greatest risk," said Carcello.

"All the problems in the Trustees Office stands out to me the most. Richard [Walls] was never up there," said Ed Shouse, a Knox County Commissioner who serves on the Audit Committee.  "He was never in the Trustee's Office looking through anything."

Last week Knox County Trustee John Duncan III abruptly resigned and pleaded guilty to official misconduct for paying himself and other employees bonuses for coursework they never completed. 

"He [Walls] was not even used when John Duncan left last week to do the exit audit.  We paid an outside firm something like $15,000 to do it," said Shouse.

Walls' was not afraid to dig into a political minefield under previous Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale.  Audits revealed all sorts of problems with county spending and forged receipts. Walls later went to the county's ethics committee and accused Ragsdale of retaliating for the audits by exerting his power as mayor to ruin Walls' career.  The Ethics Committee sent the case the District Attorney's Office, but the DA decided not to press any charges related to official oppression. 

Carcello says from 2008 to 2010, it was hard to know which complaints about Walls were legitimate.

"At that point, we thought some of that could be tied up in politics, but over the years things have not gotten better," said Carcello.  "There are some relationships that are obviously improved since the former administration is gone, but we still receive messages from people concerned about the quality of his [Walls'] work."

The decision on whether to keep Walls goes to the Knox County Commission.  Its next meeting is scheduled for July 22.

Shouse said if Walls is terminated, he favors hiring another internal auditor.  However, the commission will likely resume previous conversations about outsourcing the job to private firms.  

"We've been talking about privatizing this function for two years now. And for Richard, I thought he would have done 110 percent in these two years to try to prove his worth to Knox County."

10News attempted to reach Richard Walls several times, but he was unavailable for comment.

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