Knox County is expanding their search for an agency to bond the future trustee beyond The Hartford group, after that agency refused to bond Interim Trustee Kristin Phillips shortly after she assumed the job.
The trustee is responsible for collecting and investment of property tax dollars, and must be bonding to protect the county against losses.
On July 16, a Hartford Group representative told the county they could not support the interim successor bond because "there appears to be a track record of misconduct with the position of Trustee for Knox County, not just with Mr. Duncan, but also with prior Trustee, Mike Lowe, who is currently under indictment and Josh Burnett, prior Chief of Staff who has also pleaded guilty to official misconduct."
*Note: Former Chief of Staff Josh Burnett pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of 'facilitation of official misconduct,' not the felony charge of 'official misconduct.'
In light of that Michael Grider, spokesman for Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, says they are continuing to supply The Hartford with the additional information they requested, but are also looking at other options.
Grider also says the county's external auditor is working on developing recommendations for extra controls and procedures to recommend to the trustee's office.
He says the broker negotiating on behalf of the county with the agency recommended the county develop extra safe guards to ease the bonding process.
Commissioners interviewed candidates for the position earlier this week and are expected to vote on a successor next Monday.
At least three serious contenders for the position have worked under former trustees John Duncan III and Mike Lowe, but County Law Director Bud Armstrong says they are not concerned
The Hartford group's hesitancy to bond Phillips will extend to others with ties to previous administration's scandals.
"It's not about whose good or bad, none of that's an issue with the bonding company at this point," said Armstrong. Rather, he says, it's the policies in place that The Hartford group is interested in.
Former Trustee John Duncan, III resigned earlier this month after pleading guilty to official misconduct, a felony charge connected to bonuses he paid out to himself and a number of employees for training courses they never completed.
His predecessor, Mike Lowe, was indicted last April and is charged with stealing from the county.
"I feel confident that if the county commission appoints someone who's qualified, then they will be bondable," said Armstrong.
Commission R. Larry Smith says he agrees.
"What [The Hartford] is looking for is do they have any background. Background in the banking part of it, or worked in that office," said Smith.
Smith says he considers all of the front running candidates to be very qualified, including one of their own; Commissioner Ed Shouse.
During Monday's commission meeting a citizen spoke out against perpetuating the perception of the trustee's office as a 'good ole boys club' by making a commissioner the top office holder.
Smith says there are several candidates he thinks could do the job, but if Shouse is elected he's comfortable with the process.
"I think everything since 'Black Wednesday' has been very transparent," said Smith.