Richard Walls, August 2009
By Mike Donila, WBIR
The Knox County Commission is set to offer long-time county internal auditor Richard Walls some type of buyout package rather than fire him, something a committee recommended to the board in July.
The commission will talk more about the plan during Monday's work session, said board Chairman Tony Norman, who removed the initial proposal to terminate Walls from the commission agenda.
Officials have said little about the details, but Walls is expected to receive some severance pay that will include medical coverage. Walls, a county employee for almost 13 years, makes $92,700 annually.
The board on Monday also probably will talk about what direction officials should take the internal audit department, a $257,000 a year operation that will be left with only two employees if Walls does leave. For more than a year officials have looked into outsourcing it, even taking bids, but nothing so far has been finalized.
The Audit Committee, in a 4-1 vote, on July 9 recommended firing Walls. Only Mary Kiser, who resigned during Monday's meeting, dissented.
Committee members called his work "limited" and said he only conducted three audits last year, a low amount for the money spent on the responsibilities. Committee members also said he should better focus on areas where the "county has the greatest risk," including the Trustee's Office, which has a recent history of wrongdoing.
Kiser, though, said the accusations were unfair and that Walls was never given a chance to defend himself. She also pointed out that his last review came in 2009, so the panel held some culpability, since it didn't provide him better feedback.
On Friday, Commissioner Amy Broyles, who also serves on the audit committee said the deal that officials will discuss on Monday is a fair compromise.
"I feel really good what we were able to do, rather than just firing him, because no one wants to end their career that way," she said.
Broyles also noted that the contract will have some stipulation in it, so that if Walls accepts it, he cannot sue the county due to his termination.
"That could get expensive," she said.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, a strong opponent of severance packages, said he would talk more about the proposal once he's read through it.
The internal audit department routinely looks into and analyzes county finances and various county departments. It reports directly to the County Commission, but also answers to the Audit Committee.