Not since 1974 has the Metro Council investigated a mayor with a special committee — but a decision on Tuesday that passed by the minimum number of votes means that Megan Barry will face such scrutiny.
The extremely rare and close vote will lead to the appointment of a special council committee, with subpoena powers, that will probe whether public money was misused during the mayor’s affair with her former head of security, Sgt. Rob Forrest.
“We’re not aiming in any way or fashion to pursue any personal matters as it relates to the mayor. What we are trying to establish is public accountability,” said Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher. “It would be an understatement to say our community’s heart is broken. And this resolution is an attempt … for healing.
“Our community is looking for us for leadership. Our community is looking for us for answers.”
Several council members said they voted because of constituents who have been jamming voicemail and email accounts with questions about travel costs and overtime pay related to conference trips attended by Barry and Forrest.
“There are serious allegations that have been made about expenditures of taxpayer funds and it’s fair to want to get to the bottom of it,” said Councilman Bob Mendes.
It will be Vice Mayor David Briley who appoints the special committee members, and they’ll be able to bring in witnesses under oath and seek records.
There was fervent pushback against establishing the committee, mostly from members who worry the council’s action could interfere with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which is already tasked with the case at the request of the city's district attorney.
“With the TBI there, they are more independent organization. They can make an objective review of everything involved here,” said Councilman Larry Hagar, one of seven members to vote against the investigation.
Two members abstained. Still others were conflicted or said they’d changed their minds.
“I’m torn. I know we need to do the right thing by the taxpayers, to determine if policies have been violated,” said Councilwoman Sheri Weiner. “I’m concerned that the scope of the work of the committee may be expansive.”
Weiner did decide to vote for the investigation. She also happens to lead the council’s existing Board of Ethical Conduct but said that group wouldn’t apply the same rigor to an investigation as a special committee.
Mendes also distinguished this committee’s abilities from those of Metro’s Internal Audit Committee, which also must decide next week whether to get involved.
“They’re really good at checking, frankly, the gears of government,” Mendes said. “This is not up their alley.”