VOL. 42 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 02, 2018
Barry pleads guilty to theft, 1st Nashville mayor to resign
By Sam Stockard
Two and a-half years into a mercurial mayoral term, Megan Barry pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge and resigned Tuesday just a month after admitting to an affair with the chief of her security detail, former Metro Police Sgt. Rob Forrest.
As part of a plea agreement reached with District Attorney General Glenn Funk, Barry pleaded to a Class C felony charge of theft more than $10,000. She will serve three years of probation and must reimburse Metro Nashville government $11,000 in unlawful expenditures.
Forrest, who also made a plea bargain with the district attorney Tuesday, was placed on three years’ probation and must repay $45,000 paid to him as salary or overtime during times he was not performing his duties as chief of Barry’s security detail.
Barry, 54, and Forrest will be eligible to petition the court to expunge the felony charges once they complete probation, based on the provision under which they entered their pleas, according to the DA’s office.
Once considered a future candidate for statewide and even congressional office, Barry fell fast when she admitted in late January having the affair with Forrest. She was sworn into office in September 2015 and said the affair started in spring 2016.
A criminal investigation into their activities found Forrest logged so many hours of overtime working for Barry his salary increased to about $160,000 last fiscal year. It turned up numerous trips out of state and abroad together, and most recently prosecutors said they a nude picture and partially nude photo of a woman on Forrest’s phone.
Barry resigned at the Metro Courthouse in a room packed with media.
“While my time today as your mayor concludes, my unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people will never come to an end,” she said.
Barry called Nashville a city with “boundless energy” and “infectious optimism” and said it will continue its climb “to the top of the list of great American cities.”
“It’s a continued climb that I will watch, but I will watch as a private citizen, and I will be tremendously proud nonetheless,” she said.
Barry described her time as mayor as the “honor and privilege” of her “entire professional life and said her decision to step down is an important step in a making “smooth transition” from her administration to that of Vice Mayor David Briley was sworn in at 5 p.m. Tuesday, the effective time of Barry’s resignation.
Barry acknowledged and thanked the thousands of people she said have encouraged, comforted and prayed for her “in these many difficult and trying months.” Barry’s only son, Max, died last summer of an accidental drug overdose in Colorado.
Barry said Nashville has made “great strides and progress” in just two years on affordable housing, mass transit, public education, youth opportunities, qualify of life and the economy, none of which would have been possible without the work of her staff and the “dedicated” men and women who work for Metropolitan Nashville government.
“I sincerely hope and believe my own actions will not tarnish or otherwise detract from all the great work that they do,” she said.
Briley, 54, a Nashville native who was elected vice mayor in 2015, is the son of former Mayor Beverly Briley (1963–1975), who oversaw the transition to metropolitan government during his tenure.
“This is a hard day for Nashville,” Briley said in a statement. “Mayor Barry’s resignation will enable us to regain focus on the important work of our city.”
“My pledge is simple: As mayor, I will begin work immediately with a sole focus on managing the city and making progress on community priorities. That work will be transparent and be conducted with every effort to restore public trust and move our great city forward.”
DA explains charges and payments
Every member of the Metro Police security detail saw hours of work increase under Barry’s administration, but Forrest’s hours increased “significantly more” than other’s hours, and the $45,000 is an “acceptable figure” for his increase compared to others, a statement from Funk’s office explains.
The $11,000 paid by Barry on Tuesday represents Forrest’s travel expenses, according to the DA, and a time frame given in court, March 1, 2016 through January 2018, represents the approximate length of the affair between the pair.
Barry and Forrest both entered conditional pleas, which means once they complete probation, they will be eligible to apply for expunction of their records and, if successful, would have no criminal records, Funk’s office said.
The former mayor is eligible to have her record expunged because Forrest admitted he improperly received more than $10,000 in city compensation for time he reported as work hours that were really personal time with Barry, according to the statement. Barry’s personal time didn’t involve duties of her office or official capacity, which is why she was charged with theft of property. Her probation will be unsupervised, and her travel within the country won’t be restricted.
After the pair entered their pleas Tuesday, Funk informed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation the investigation into the matter can be closed, the statement says. And by state law the TBI investigative reports are not public records.
Metro City Councilman Steve Glover, an opponent of Barry’s $5.4 billion mass transit plan, also called it a “sad day” for Nashville.
“I don’t think anybody is ecstatic today,” Glover said, adding no matter where people stand politically, “this has not been a healthy thing for Nashville.”
Nevertheless, he said it’s time for city residents to put this episode behind them and start thinking about other matters, such as the budget and the transit plan the council placed on a May ballot for a voter referendum. The referendum question also is to contain a figure of more than $9 billion, based on some long-term costs of the transit proposal.
Glover predicted a difficult task for transit plan supporters, pointing out the transit plan has been pushed “as Mayor Barry’s transit plan, and there’s no Mayor Barry now. I think it will be an uphill battle.”
Metro City Councilman Jeremy Elrod, who ferried the transit referendum to council approval, sees it differently.
Elrod said he felt Barry did the right thing by resigning and with it done, Davidson County voters can concentrate on the details of the transit proposal instead of waiting for the next scandalous headline to emerge on the evening news or morning newspaper.
The plan has a “lot of layers,” and if city residents are inundated with innuendo and scurrilous talk they have trouble focusing on the transit plan’s facts, Elrod said.
The plan involves an underground downtown rail line, rail lines in the city’s main corridors, increased bus routes and other improvements. Foes have called it an expensive plan that will raise taxes, including the sales, without any guarantee for solving traffic congestion.
“Now we will be able to concentrate on it,” Elrod said, predicting the measure will pass on the public vote. “I think Mayor Briley will be able to pull folks together and concentrate on it.”
State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat, said Nashville residents need to “come together” in the wake of Barry’s departure from office.
“Our city’s faced and overcome bigger challenges than what’s before us today,” Yarbro said in a statement. “While I support Megan in her decision, this is a sad day for the city. People who see today as an opportunity for themselves or a time to celebrate don’t represent the best of Nashville.”
Yarbro urged residents to support Briley, the council and city employees as they tackle issues such as transit and affordable housing.
State Rep. Bill Beck, a Nashville Democrat who chairs the Davidson County Legislative Delegation, called today’s events a “sad situation” for Nashville, as well.
“I’m praying for everyone involved. However, the business of the city doesn’t stop. I look forward to working with Mayor Briley and the Metro Council to keep Nashville moving in the right direction, including passing a transit plan in May.”
Davidson County Republican Party Chairman Melissa Smithson agreed Barry made the best decision for the city by stepping down.
“The investigations into the events over the past two years are an unnecessary distraction for our Metro Council and city government officials and have interfered with their ability to carry out the daily business of running our city,” Smithson said in a statement. “Nashvillians deserve better, and we appreciate the mayor for recognizing this. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter for the Nashville Ledger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.