A report by the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office released on Wednesday found that Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston violated a state nepotism law by employing his wife, Melydia Clewell, and her brother, Kerry Clewell.
“Comptroller investigators determined that the chief of staff and a DAG investigator, who are both state employees within the DAG’s office (a governmental entity), are related by marriage and are in the direct line of supervision of the elected DAG,” a report released Wednesday states.
The state’s nepotism law states in part “no state employees who are relatives shall be placed within the same direct line of supervision whereby one relative is responsible for supervising the job performance or work activities of another relative.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Pinkston released the following statement regarding the findings of the investigation: “In response to the comptroller’s investigative report issued today, two employees within the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office will be placed on leave effective immediately. I am reviewing the recommendations of the comptroller’s office and may have additional comments at a later date.”
The findings of the investigation comes in the thick of a Republican Primary campaign where Pinkston is being challenged by Coty Wamp.
Wamp said the findings by the comptroller’s office was “disappointing but not surprising,” and that Pinkston’s actions are the kind that undermines the public’s trust in government.
“The District Attorney has proven time and time again that he either doesn’t know the law or simply doesn’t care about it,” Wamp said in a statement. “Hiring family members to work directly underneath you is not only a violation of state law, which one would assume is of the utmost importance to an elected District Attorney, it is also a violation of public trust.
“When elected, I will use the salary of the DA’s wife and brother-in-law to create new prosecutorial positions. A prosecutor dedicated to gang and violent crime and a prosecutor dedicated to child sex abuse cases are two of my first priorities when I get in office.”
Pinkston’s marriage to Clewell, his Chief of Staff, came to light in May of 2021 when County Commissioner Tim Boyd asked during a budget hearing if Pinkston employed any relatives using county funds. Pinkston said he did not. At that time both of the Clewells were paid from state funds.
Pinkston has denied any wrongdoing. Since last year’s commission budget hearings, Pinkston transferred the Clewells’ payroll under Hamilton County funds.
The state report indicates that having his relatives’ salaries paid for out of county funds does not remedy the situation.
“The DAG’s (District Attorney General) office transferred the funding source for the chief of staff and the DAG investigator from state to county government after receiving an inquiry from an outside entity,” the report states. “All employees of the DAG’s office are considered state employees regardless of the funding source of their salaries.”
Click on this link for the full report.