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Knox Commission considering retirement instead of firing for auditor

4:59 PM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
Richard Walls, August 2009
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By Mike Donila, WBIR 

The Knox County Commission on Monday agreed not to fire long-time county internal auditor Richard Walls, and instead agreed to wait until next week to talk about whether to offer him a severance package that would cover four months of salary.

The retirement proposal, if approved, would take effect Sept. 3 and also include single insurance coverage for 18 months.

In addition, Walls could receive a payout of all unused vacation leave he accrued during his career, as well as any unused sick leave he has left at the rate of $100 per day.

Walls, a county employee for almost 13 years, makes $92,700 annually. His severance pay would amount to almost $31,000.
If he and the board do sign the proposal, then Walls also could not pursue legal action against the county due to his termination.

The board during Monday's work session forwarded the proposal on without recommendation to next week's voting meeting; however, officials said they expect to approve the contract next week.

"He has agreed to retirement and my feeling is that we should let him be, let him go into retirement," said Commissioner Mike Hammond. "But we need to have a separate discussion about the future of the department and what direction to take it."

The discussion surrounding Walls' fate stemmed from the Audit Committee's July 9 meeting in which the panel in a 4-1 vote recommended his firing. Only Mary Kiser, who resigned during a committee last week, dissented.

Committee members at the time 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.

"What we were able to do with this (contract) is much more respectful to Richard and his work here, but I do agree that Richard needed to go," said Commissioner Amy Broyles, who also sits on the Audit Committee.

Commissioner Ed Shouse, also a committee member, agreed, calling it an "unfortunate situation."

Commissioners during Monday's work session started to talk more about the circumstances that led the committee to make its decision, but then cut the discussion short.

"Please let the man go out as gracefully as we can," said Commissioner Mike Brown, a Wall's supporter.

Commissioner Jeff Ownby added: "Mr. Walls has agreed to this resignation . . . and we should let him go in peace with his reputation intact."

Walls, who was not at the meeting, could not be reached for
comment Monday.

|The internal audit department, a $257,000 a year operation that includes three employees, 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.

In other county news:

The commission also tentatively approved the new retirement plan for the Knox County Sheriff's Office dubbed the Sheriff's Total Asset Accumulation Retirement plan, or STAR, which affects law enforcement and corrections officers hired after next Jan. 1.

Current officers would keep their traditional pensions.

The new plan requires employees to contribute 6 percent of pay and the county puts in 10 percent. In addition, the county puts another 2 percent into a medical reimbursement plan to offset medical premiums and costs for the retirees from the time they leave the job until they're eligible for Medicare.

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