An additional punishment could come down next year on former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. On Wednesday, the Metro Board of Ethical Conduct found enough evidence to say that her affair with a police sergeant violated city ethics standards, and the board asked the Metro Council to formally censure her.
Barry has already pleaded guilty, paid restitution and resigned after disclosing the relationship in January. But the board decided that its least-severe option — recommending a symbolic, public reprimand — was warranted.
The board considered four parts of the ethics code and found Barry violated two tenets by improperly using her position to steer extra overtime to former Sgt. Robert Forrest, the head of her security detail.
That finding goes to the Metro Council, which has final say on censure. The hearing on Wednesday raised a question as to whether city laws allow a former official to be censured, but an attorney advising the ethics board said his interpretation is that such an outcome would be allowed.
The activist who filed the complaint, Theeda Murphy, said the board’s action goes beyond Barry’s prior punishments — and that a reprimand would send a warning to future officials.
Her case argued that Barry eroded public trust, wasted taxpayer money and embarrassed the city, and that Barry benefitted from an “elitist” justice system.
“We have to condemn it in the most emphatic way before we can move forward and truly put this behind us,” Murphy said.
However, the ethics board rejected Murphy’s claim that Barry seemed beholden to the police during the affair. Several high-profile law enforcement policies were debated during that time, including the creation of a community oversight board, for which Murphy has been a leading proponent.
Murphy provided a few internal emails and testimony from three people, including Sekou Franklin, an activist and Middle Tennessee State University professor. He recounted a meeting in which he told Barry of widespread fears among community oversight proponents that they were being monitored and intimidated by police.
“I would not have brought that up if I knew about Sgt. Robert Forrest’s affair. ... I don’t know who it’s going to get back to,” Franklin said.
But members of the ethics board said they couldn’t know Barry’s thinking, one way or the other.
“I can’t sit here honestly and say that the testimony that I heard today can connect the dots with me,” said Larry Patton.
Barry was not present for the hearing. Her attorney, David Garrison, argued the evidence was thin and that she’s already been punished.
“Megan Barry has been more than officially reprimanded,” he said. “This board should … allow the city to move on.”
He wouldn’t comment on whether Barry will appeal the findings.