Former Trustee Duncan spent tax dollars to spread name in Knox County

10:23 PM, Jul 10, 2013   |    comments
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It has been a little more than a week since Knox County Trustee John Duncan III abruptly resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of official misconduct.

The removal of Duncan's name from Trustee property requires more than changing a single nameplate on his desk.  During his short time in office, the former Trustee's name literally left a mark in places far beyond his actual office in the City County Building.

Duncan made a name for himself by having it displayed on the glass doors at the Cedar Bluff branch location of the Trustee's Office.  At first glance the name appears etched in the glass along with the Knox County Seal, but they are actually decals.  The name was scraped off the glass doors on Monday night.

The Public Building Authority could not locate the invoice for the door decals at Cedar Bluff, but speculated Duncan's name was likely added to the doors a couple of months after he took office in 2010.  The PBA said similar decals with the Knox County Seal and names cost around $200.

Duncan also placed his name on objects that would surely last longer than term limits could allow him to spend in office.  Four heavy safes used as drop-boxes for property tax payments at Trustee's Office branch locations feature the Knox County seal and John Duncan's name.

The Trustee's Office paid Power T Graphix $375 in June 2011 to create the custom doors for the safes featuring Duncan's name.  The doors will now have to be redone or patched over.

Maryville College political science professor Mark O'Gorman says politicians frequently consider the ability to plaster their names on objects throughout town on the taxpayer's dime a perk of winning an election.

"It is about name recognition anytime you can get some free campaigning by putting your name on something," said O'Gorman.  "It is taxpayer money. I think that is part of the larger issue, whether this is something taxpayers are going to get grumpy about because this is not a great use of money."

Name removal would have been an issue even if Duncan never got into legal trouble.  Someday he would have to leave the Trustee's Office due to term limits.

"At the end of that term-limited position, all those mailboxes and all of those doors' names have to be changed.  It is another use of taxpayer money that might not be the best use," said O'Gorman.

Duncan was not the first Trustee to have his name posted at locations other than his own office.  The branch location in Halls clearly shows a leftover residue outline of the name of former Trustee Mike Lowe.  Lowe currently faces several charges of theft while he was Trustee.  His trial is currently set for the summer of 2014.

The next trustee faces the task of clearing and restoring the name of a troubled county office. The Knox County Commission is accepting applications for the job and will appoint someone to finish the remainder of John Duncan III's term that ends in August 2014.

Additional Name Recognition Not Needed

John Duncan III's family name was already prominently etched in Knoxville history and helped the young politician win the Trustee's seat in 2010. 

His grandfather, John Duncan Sr., was Knoxville's mayor in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  In 1965, Duncan Sr. was elected to Congress and served in the U.S. House until his death in 1988. 

Since then, the same seat in the U.S. House has been held by the former Trustee's father, Congressman John Duncan, Jr. (more commonly known as "Jimmy" Duncan).  Congressman Duncan's name is permanently honored by Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law as well as the John J. Duncan, Jr. KAT bus station in downtown Knoxville.

The names placed on Trustee property merely said "John Duncan" and did not specify the office holder as "John Duncan III."

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