Records: Anderson County clerk subject of 2015 employee complaint

In 2015, according to records, the Anderson County human resources director reported he'd been contacted by a woman who detailed instances in which she thought Williams Jones had acted inappropriately.

Two years before five women lodged complaints against him, the Anderson County Circuit Court clerk was the subject of a report about his "slightly odd" and belittling behavior, records obtained by 10News show.

The Anderson County Commission called this week on Jones, 49, to resign after hearing about his alleged harassment of five women employees who came forward in 2017. They expressed concerns in a resolution that the county could be legally liable for what he's alleged to have done.

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Jones, a Republican seeking re-election, has declined to step down. He's attributed the accusations revealed this week against him to politics and said they're false.

Jones could not be reached Friday for comment.

Channel 10 has obtained, among other documents, sworn statements from some of his employees. One former employee in 2017 became so upset she sought the help of the Oak Ridge area NAACP office, which then referred her case to the FBI.

'You look prettier when you smile'

Records show Jones has been admonished formally about his behavior as early as 2015, less than a year after he'd been elected to oversee the office that keeps records in court cases.

The documents also show he was defiant when confronted, telling the county human resources director he had no boss and could do what he wanted.

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In early May 2015, Russell Bearden, Anderson County's human resources director, was contacted by a former Jones employee. Her name is redacted in records obtained by 10News.

The woman wanted to file a sexual harassment complaint about Jones for incidents during her brief time in his office in 2015, an affidavit by Bearden states. Bearden has since left his job with Anderson County, and his affidavit was prepared in September 2017 when he began investigating the complaints of the five women in Jones' office.

A former employee of William Jones in May 2015 lodged a complaint against the Anderson County court clerk.

According to the affidavit, the woman had worked for Jones from March 11-15, 2015.

In an email to Bearden, she cited several things Jones did during her job interview, including asking about her age, her personal relationship status and her religious preference. Questions about a person's religion or relationship status are typically considered off-limits during interviews.

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According to the email, she recalled that he also said, "Smile, you look prettier when you smile."

In general, the woman wrote, "He just always made me feel like he was staring at me, making me feel scrutinized and very uncomfortable."

She recalled an incident during her brief time working for him. She'd told him she didn't think the job was working out for her.

Jones told her to come sit in his office and eat her lunch.

"I had brought a yogurt, so I ate it, feeling kind of strange but trying not to be rude. He then told me he had a fetish for women eating yogurt, I felt so embarrassed and violated having sat there and eaten my food in front of him," her email states.

According to the note, when she decided to quit, she texted her manager. She didn't want to go back in the office, according to the email.

She told Bearden the way he talked to her was "belittling" and made her feel as if she were less of a person. The woman said she'd had hopes for the job but couldn't stay because of Jones' conduct.

According to his affidavit, Bearden informed Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank around May 7.

"She seemed concerned and told me I should talk with Mr. Jones about the complaint," the affidavit states.

Jones presented a statement a few days later. Bearden said in his affidavit he cautioned the court clerk that he "needed to be very careful about what he is saying to members of the opposite sex.

"I discussed Mr. Jones exchange of a sexual nature, being alone with members of the opposite sex and about inappropriate jokes and general behavior, as I have facilitated many classes on the subject throughout my HR career."

According to Bearden, Jones laughed at him.

"He made the statement, 'The beauty of this is that I don't report to anyone, I don't have a boss. I could sit in my office butt naked with the door open and masturbate and there's nothing you can do about it,' " the document states.

Bearden said he tried again to admonish Jones against harassing someone in his office. Jones left, according to the statement.

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'Very shocking'

Bearden stated in his affidavit that he reported what had happened to Mayor Frank. She observed, according to Bearden, that Jones was new and might need some training. But she told the human resources director she couldn't force him to do it since he was an elected official.

The director arranged for Jones to take sexual harassment training through a Knoxville area firm that specializes in employment law. According to Bearden, Jones agreed to take the training in Nashville.

But then he changed his mind. He was supposed to take it May 22, 2015, but on May 21 Jones "let me know that he would not be attending the training for fear that someone would find out."

Instead, he said he'd taken an online course on harassment through an agency that advises municipal governments in Tennessee. That would be sufficient, he said.

According to Bearden, he told Frank what had happened. She replied, according to his affidavit, that she couldn't do anything about it and "that's just the way it is in local government."

On Tuesday night, when commissioners censured Jones and called on him to resign, 10News spoke with Mayor Frank.

She said then this week's revelations presented an opportunity for Anderson County to "shore up any weaknesses in the process."

Frank said officials had a "lot to process, a lot of it was very shocking."

She also said: "If this is true, absolutely, full accountability is required."