Zero Tolerance on Council agenda today

Amelia Parker at a recent City Council meeting. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

Knoxville City Council may decide today whether officials should begin moving in the direction of a possible “zero tolerance” policy toward racist conduct in the wake of several recent controversies at the Knoxville Police Department. 

A proposal from At-Large City Council member Amelia Parker has been added to today’s agenda that, if passed, will require City officials to begin studying whether such a policy is desirable and doable. 

In response to queries about the proposal from both Compass and Hard Knox Wire, Parker sent out a single email in which she spelled out her reasons for seeking such a policy.

“We have had multiple alarming reports from city employees, specifically KPD officers, of an unabated culture of racism and sexism within the department,” Parker said.

“If officers from minority groups are being treated unfairly internally, then it is difficult for Knoxville residents to have confidence that officers will treat them fairly. The city of Knoxville should hold police officers and all city employees to the highest standards of integrity and ethics,” she said. 

When asked how she would define a “zero tolerance” policy, Parker replied: “The resolution allows city departments 90 days to propose a definition to city council. A zero tolerance policy should outline clear, mandatory disciplinary action that is to be taken when the policy is violated and should not leave it to the discretion of each supervisor.”

If the proposal is passed, City officials will “study and contemplate” whether current policies go far enough in protecting employees and make a recommendation within 90 days on whether a zero tolerance policy is needed. 

Parker said last week she was disappointed that Mayor Indya Kincannon and KPD Chief Eve Thomas “have not adequately addressed the need for a zero tolerance policy through our administrative rules and general orders.”

The last few months have been rough for Kincannon and Thomas, who have been attacked over perceptions that KPD has a problem with racism. 

Numerous allegations of wrongdoing or mismanagement at KPD have arisen. The controversies have even led Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, normally a staunch Kincannon ally, to declare publicly that she’s lost confidence in the ability of Thomas to successfully handle allegations of racism in the agency. 

Kristin Farley, Kincannon’s director of communications, issued a statement defending the City’s policies but adding that the administration is continually examining them to see if they can be improved.

“The City of Knoxville does not tolerate racist and sexist behavior by any of our employees and has strong rules prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other protected classes.  From top leadership on down, all employees are expected to conduct themselves appropriately, and when there is a case of misconduct, we have systems in place to investigate and take the appropriate disciplinary action,” Farley said. 

 “Our policies hold City employees to a high standard, but also reflect employment law and Civil Service protections afforded by the City Charter — that employees have a right to due process, progressive discipline, and the ability to file a grievance concerning any complaint or misconduct,” she continued.

Farley added: “We have and will continue to regularly evaluate our policies, and look forward to sharing additional information at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.”

Parker said she crafted her resolution after one that passed last year in Milwaukee, Wis. She also said that she sought the input of City Attorney Rob Frost. 

“While the Milwaukee resolution directs their Employee Relations Department (which I assume is an HR department) to recommend a zero tolerance policy to city council, Attorney Frost recommended that this resolution be left to the various departments to work on because the law department would need to play a role as well as HR, and civil service which would investigate violations of the policy by civil service employees. Any personnel policy that is adopted by ordinance would then be incorporated into administrative rules and police general orders,” she said. 

City Council’s meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room at the City-County Building. 

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at 

Published on July 27, 2021