A new audit out Wednesday confirms that former Mayor Megan Barry and her security guard, Sgt. Robert Forrest, violated ethical standards and that city funds were misused during their extramarital affair.
And auditors recommended several reforms for the mayor’s office, finance and human resources departments, and the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Investigators interviewed 17 city and police officials, reviewed emails and credit records, and compared timesheets and calendars for the mayor and her bodyguard to build out a 39-page report. It covered overtime payments to Forrest and use of public funds during work-related trips outside of Nashville.
Among the findings:
- Forrest improperly reported some work hours, although the precise amount of misused funds could not be determined;
- Forrest’s overtime hours increased nearly 59 percent from 2015 into 2016;
- Barry and Forrest did not use any public funds on travel that was purely personal;
- Forrest’s pension should be reduced.
Investigators said that once the affair began, Forrest accompanied Barry on 24 of 34 trips, and that on seven occasions they were the only two officials who traveled. All of those trips were related to official business, but auditors went on to find discrepancies in the work hours filed by Forrest.
The audit also relies in part on prior guilty pleas from Barry and Forrest in court, finding that their “pleas of conditionally guilty to theft of public funds over $10,000 indicate they used public office for private gain and affected the confidence of the public in the integrity of the Metropolitan Nashville Government adversely.”
The broader takeaway is that Metro needs to shore up its oversight of official travel and overtime hours.
Auditors made several recommendations:
- City police should use “rotating stacked shifts” for the mayor’s security detail;
- Police should monitor the discretionary overtime of its top employees;
- The Finance Department should provide guidance on how mayoral trips are funded, especially those paid for by nonprofits;
- Travel expense forms should be completed for all trips, as was not always the case with Barry;
- The mayor’s office should create an ethics handbook and provide an annual report to the Metro Council of all mayoral travel, including which officials were involved.
The audit, which includes detailed logs of the mayor’s trips, and an analysis of security detail overtime, found that overall overtime hours increased during Barry’s time in office, with Forrest’s hours increasing the most.
Metro police say they’ve already been keeping a closer eye on overtime and management of the mayor’s security detail.
“It was difficult for the police department to look at a trusted supervisor who was making these decisions,” spokeswoman Kris Mumford said, referring to Forrest, “but we do take these recommendations to heart, and we are keeping an eye on this.”
In discussing a suggested Code of Ethics handbook, the independent Metro auditors said such a manual could “help and support employees’ understanding of the expectations for conducting themselves in an honorable manner and making the right decisions when faced with an ethical dilemma.”
Forrest retired shortly before the January disclosure of the affair. Barry resigned in March. Both pleaded guilty to theft charges in a plea deal with the Davidson County District Attorney.
The mayor’s office is reviewing the audit. Spokeswoman Judith Byrd says Mayor David Briley is “open to any recommendations to improve transparency and accountability.”