- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—A Knox County commissioner Monday blasted County Clerk Foster Arnett and questioned whether Arnett could fulfill his job duties after making disparaging remarks about Muslims on Facebook.

“To make statements like that when you have a countywide office is just inexcusable and unforgivable,” Commissioner Sam McKenzie said Monday at the body’s regular monthly meeting. “I think it does have an effect on you when you issue hate-filled statements like this about any one person, it’s not isolated to that one particular one. He doesn’t like the fact that we’re a melting pot, in my opinion based on what I’ve read and what I continue to read in his nonapology.”

Arnett issued an apology in a statement to local news outlets Monday, more than a week after he posted and then deleted the derogatory statements in the wake of the Chattanooga fatal shootings. The posts were captured with screenshots and posted to the local blog KnoxViews.

The posts were shared on Arnett’s personal Facebook page and not on the clerk’s office website.

One photo contains a caption that uses a derogatory term for Muslims and reads, “Stop being afraid of being called racist … and act like Americans.”

An accompanying post reads, “I was ‘un-friended’ yesterday by someone over a comment about Muslims. I DON’T CARE! As a country, we had better WAKE UP and STAND UP before it is too late! I am SICK TO DEATH of this political correctness society we live in today. Last time I checked, this is America, at least until Obama and the libs ruin it, and I am FREE to say what I believe.”

McKenzie, during an eight-minute speech to his fellow commissioners, said he believed minority hiring — especially in management positions — had decreased in the clerk’s office since Arnett took office.

McKenzie said he planned to ask the law department to study the diversity within the office.

“I strongly feel we need to dig into this,” McKenzie said. “I feel strongly that I don’t feel like he could do his job. I think he’s turned that office over in terms of minority hiring, to where there aren’t any. I would ask for that research to be done.”

Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong said he would follow up with McKenzie to determine exactly what information the commissioner is requesting.

Arnett, when reached by phone following Monday’s commission meeting, said he turned over hiring in his office to the county human resources department after taking office in 2008.

“What I would say to Sam McKenzie is, if he has a problem with my hiring practices, he needs to check with Knox County Human Resources Department,” Arnett said. “When people apply to work in my office, they have to go through Knox County HR so there will be no question about who applies and to make sure we follow all rules.”

In his apology statement first circulated before the commission meeting, Arnett said he was upset by the Chattanooga shootings and had never hidden his political affiliation.

Arnett insisted his personal beliefs have never impeded his ability to carry out his job as county clerk.

McKenzie, in his remarks, dismissed Arnett’s apology.

“That’s not an apology,” McKenzie told commissioners. “That’s a furthering of ‘I was right.’ We should be embarrassed.”

No other commissioners spoke on the issue during the meeting, and some who were approached afterward declined to comment.

Chairman Brad Anders declined to speak on Arnett’s statements, but said elected officials should hold themselves to a “higher standard.”

“It’s important as elected officials to be cautious of our statements,” he said.

Knox County Democratic Party Chairman Cameron Brooks also issued a statement Monday criticizing Arnett and questioning his ability to do the job.

“These posts raise serious questions about Arnett’s ethical principles as someone who was elected to represent all citizens in Knox County,” Brooks wrote. “We have serious concerns that these posts create a negative environment inside the clerk’s office for the citizens who use the office on a daily basis and for the employees who work there.”

Knox County GOP Chairman Buddy Burkhardt told WBIR the Facebook posts on Arnett’s personal account “in no way reflect the views of the Republican Party.”

“As I have said on TV and at most meetings, the Republican Party welcomes all persons with conservative values regardless of race, creed, color or religion,” Burkhardt told the television station.

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(c)2015 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Visit the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) at www.knoxnews.com

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