(WBIR - Knoxville) Twenty-five people have nominated themselves to fill the unexpired term of former Knox County Trustee John Duncan III, and they had an opportunity Monday to tell the commissioners who will hire them why they are best suited for the job.
Twelve applicants showed up to explain why they should become the person responsible for overseeing the department that collects and invests the county's property tax revenue.
Duncan resigned from the position on July 2, after pleading guilty to official misconduct. The felony charge was linked to bonus payments he allegedly made to himself and employees for a training course they never completed.
The applicants, for the most part, fell into two groups: those who maintained their experience within the trustee's office gives them insight into the department's problems, and those who contend their inexperience with the department means they are untainted by scandal.
William Curtis fell into the first group, and told the body he wants to continue to initiatives he started while working as the office's chief of staff before retiring earlier this year. He mentioned his good working relationship with employees and understanding of operations, as well as the office's increased delinquent collections during his tenure. Curtis promised to meticulously review payroll on a biweekly basis and work with the Knox County Finance Department to restore taxpayer confidence.
Another applicant with trustee's office experience, Craig Leuthold, told commissioners he understands "the human side" of the department's work. Leuthold says during his 16 years in the trustee's office, he helped to institute and promote the tax freeze/relief programs available to help low income people afford their homes, as well as help the county process payments more quickly. Leuthold, who currently works as the public information director for the property assessor's office, says he would be open to running for the office in the future.
Fred Sisk, who said his 20 years with the office allowed him to "learn it from the ground up," says he wants to serve as trustee on an interim basis and act as a caretaker until the current term is finished. "One thing that I can do is hit the ground running," said Sisk, noting that the county's auditors will come in next month to prepare the county's financial reports. Sisk said when he left the office in 2010 it was running efficiently with 31 employees. Now topping out at more than 45, Sisk says he would be prepared to make the tough decisions about who should stay or go. However, he would like to hire on two certified public accountants to work with the county's finance department to manage the department's investments.
Current Knox County Commissioner Ed Shouse has also asked to be considered for the position. Before rattling off the office's maximum and minimum cash balances, Shouse told his colleagues his past four years and 10 months as a commissioner, and as a member of the audit committee, have given him the opportunity to study the department. Over his career Shouse told commissioners he has "managed people, managed money, and managed railroads," but Commissioner Mike Hammond wanted to know how he would manage restoring the department's credibility.
Shouse said the key will be continuity. With the office on its fifth trustee in five years, Shouse said he would be sure to offer opportunity to advance to current employees. When asked about concerns that hiring Shouse would perpetuate the public's perception of the office as being a "good 'ole boys club," he responded that he's proud of commission's transparency. He also mentioned that he has not called any of his fellow politicians to lobby for the job.
A full list of applicants interviewed Monday:
- Drake Patterson
- Marion M. (Mac) Pickle III
- Fred Sisk
- Ed Shouse
- William (Bill) Curtis
- Mitch Hall
- Craig Leuthold
- Eric Luttrell
- William Daniels
- Mike Manning
- Charles Ogden
- William Orcutt
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized Fred Sisk's long-term plans if appointed to the trustee position. We regret the error.