Davidson County clerks hire relatives for jobs without considering other applicants
Criminal court clerk hired daughter to a position that was never advertised
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Davidson County criminal court Howard Gentry had an idea for a new job in his department: someone who could work part-time, do social media and outreach for the growing number of people needing expungements in the county.
But he didn’t advertise the job or gather applicants, and instead just gave the position to his daughter, Taylor Gentry.
In fact, Taylor Gentry didn’t even have to apply for the job, although she did submit her resume, which includes volunteering and working for campaigns, including doing social media.
“She was, what I thought, ideal for it,” Gentry told WSMV4 Investigates.
“Did you essentially create a taxpayer-funded job for your daughter?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“The position was there. We didn’t ask for new money. It was an open position,” Gentry said.
“If nobody else applied, how do you know she was the best applicant?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“She was the best for what I needed,” Gentry said.
WSMV4 Investigates then began to ask, “But how do you know there wasn’t somebody else?”
“I don’t know there wasn’t somebody else. I’m not. There’s always a better person,” Gentry said.
While in the city’s employee pay database, the position shows that it pays $64,000, Gentry said that isn’t accurate, citing the position pays between $20,000 and $30,000 a year because it’s part-time.
Our investigation also found that county clerk Brenda Wynn’s grandson Damien Wynn, as well as her granddaughter and niece, have all received paid internships in her office.
WSMV4 Investigates is not identifying Wynn’s granddaughter and niece, as they are not current metro employees.
County records show Damien Wynn stayed with his grandmother’s office after the paid internship and moved into his current job at more than $42,000 a year.
“In your grandson’s case, was anyone else considered for the job he has right now?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Once they trained him to do it, and there was turnover in the office. What (Wynn’s staff) said was, would he consider doing this full time? (And I said) you guys have to talk to him about that.”
WSMV4 Investigates then began to ask, “Your grandson got a job that no one had to apply for. He essentially got the job –”
“I’ve got jobs if they want one,” Wynn said.
Wynn said everyone who applied for pain internships was placed within a year, and she’s having difficulty filling all positions.
“I need bodies in seats,” Wynn said.
WSMV4 Investigates took our findings to two of the country’s top experts on ethics in government: William Hall, an adjunct professor of political science in the Department of History, Politics, and International Relations at Webster University, and John P. Pelissero, Senior Scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
“I think it sends a bad signal. I don’t think that it’s a good look,” Hall said.
“I think fundamentally it’s wrong,” Pelissero said.
Hall said that even if hiring is difficult, like in Wynn’s office, he believes clerks should not hire or give paid internships to relatives.
“It looks bad when you’re dealing with the taxpayers’ money,” Hall said. “If there’s a hint of impropriety, that’s bad. And I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Both Wynn and Gentry said they do not violate their offices’ nepotism rules, because they do not directly supervise their relatives. “In these cases, the clerks are not supervising their family members. So does that mean it’s not nepotism?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“It’s still an issue. It’s within the scope of responsibility of that office that the clerk is responsible for everyone who works there even if they don’t directly report to them,” Pelissero said.
WSMV4 Investigates asked Gentry what he thinks taxpayers will think when they find out he gives his daughter a taxpayer-funded job without reviewing other candidates.
“I don’t know. I’m not going to, you know what? I’m not the first person to have done this,” Gentry said.
And Gentry is right; his predecessor in the criminal court clerk’s office, David Torrence, was investigated by WSMV4 Investigates in 2011 and exposed that Torrence hired two of his sons for jobs within his office and was also only working three days a week.
After our investigations aired, Torrence resigned after the then-district attorney threatened to remove him from office unless he stepped down.
Because Wynn and Gentry are elected officials, they have no oversight or have to get their hirings approved by anyone.
Gentry said his daughter will not remain in the position indefinitely, as she is still in graduate school, and he intends to hire someone for the position full-time in the future.
If you’d like to watch the full unedited interviews with both clerks, you can watch them here:
If there’s something you’d like WSMV4 Investigates to look into, let us know here.
Copyright 2023 WSMV. All rights reserved.