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Harkins denies wrongdoing

Farragut resident and Knox County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ben Harkins is speaking out about two Knoxville News Sentinel articles.

The articles, from June 23 and June 27 issues, addressed Harkins’ acceptance of a $500 gift certificate as a result of playing at the Knoxville Open Pro-Am.

The Sentinel reported the acceptance could have violated the county’s new ethics policy, adopted in January.

Harkins said he believes he did nothing wrong.

“[The Sentinel was] factually correct. I played in the Pro-Am. I received a five hundred dollar gift certificate, and I used the gift certificate to buy merchandise that they had there. Factually, that is correct,” he said. “But I didn’t want to let people believe the Sentinel’s insinuation that I’ve done something wrong. I still don’t believe that I’ve done anything wrong.”

He said everyone who participated in the Pro-Am received a goody bag, just as they always have.

“This is an event that, for eighteen years, had at least one Pro-Am prior to the tournament, most of the time they had two. For each of those Pro-Ams they give out gifts to all the participants. This year was no different. This is the first time in eighteen years that I was allowed to play, so I was pretty excited,” he said. “Everybody that participated was given, I think it was a shirt, hat and a gift certificate.”

He was surprised, he said, that his name was included in the list of county officials who might have unethically accepted the gift certificate, which was redeemable at a store at the tournament.

“By their own definition I have done nothing wrong. I have no influence or vote over whether Knoxville Open receives any type of government money. I’m not an elected official; I’m just an employee of Knox County,” he added. “I’m not appointed or elected. I got this job when nobody knew who I was. I’ve been with the Sheriff’s department for close to thirty years.”

He added, “As I reflect back on it, was it wrong to play in the tournament, was it wrong to accept the gifts given out to all the players – I believe it was not. The News Sentinel, which seems to want to be the ethics committee, said it was a violation. I’ve not had anybody tell me that I violated any kind of ethics policy for Knox County. I’ve never been told that I am covered by an ethics policy for Knox County. The only time I’ve seen it applied to me is in the News Sentinel.”

The most upsetting thing, Harkins said, “is that my honesty, integrity, whatever you want to call it, has been questioned without a chance at a rebuttal … I have yet had anybody from the News Sentinel even try to contact me, before or after the stories came out.”

He said the articles did not give him a chance to address the


“What they failed to tell you about my involvement in it is that mine goes back eighteen years. My donation to the tournament for at least seventeen of those eighteen years is my time. So far this year, it’s been right at three thousand dollars worth of time that I’ve donated through off-hours, weekends, vacations that I’ve taken to help out with this golf tournament,” he said. “The News Sentinel had that information. They were given that information by Martha Dooley [spokesperson for Knox County Sheriff’s Office], that I worked the event, that it was all personal, and my time was what I was using down there. They chose not to print that.”

Harkins is worried the publicity might have a negative impact, he said, on the Knoxville Open.

“The only thing, outside of them questioning my honesty and integrity, that I worry about in all of this is anything that would hurt the golf tournament, because it’s a great event to have here in Knox County,” he added.

Much of the proceeds of the Open benefit the Boys and Girls Club of America, he said.

Jack McElroy, editor for News Sentinel, said he could not respond until he spoke with the reporter who wrote the article, and as of print time had not responded further.


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