Ethics Board Cleaning House in the ‘It’ City

Devinder Sandhu (center) speaks to the Ethics Board.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — The man who stopped the giveaway of the old Greer Stadium property at Fort Negley withdrew his complaint against District 17 Councilman Colby Sledge at an Ethics Board meeting last week.

“I’ve been a fan and supporter of his and he just got caught up in this mess,” said Devinder Sandhu.

Sandhu told the 5-member board he would drop his complaint against Sledge if they let him make a 10-minute statement. Three minutes into his firsthand experience of corruption in Metro’s Procurement Office, Board Chairman Josiah Reid cut him off.

“This is a very important item to the minority community in this town,” Sandhu said.

“This has nothing to do with the substance of this,“ said Reid.

“Yes it does. You guys are learning the process of what’s going on in the city. We need this city to be more transparent in how it does business with members of our community….Elected official have to be held accountable,” Sandhu said.

Sandhu said minority contractors don’t bring complaints before Metro’s Procurement Board because they are afraid of retaliation. Black contractors get precious little city work now. Between 2012-2016, African American businesses got less than 2 percent of the total of Metro contracts worth $3.3 billion, according to a recent NAACP report.

Sandhu said he will pursue a separate lawsuit against the city for gaming the bidding process in the Fort Negley RFQ in favor of a campaign supporter of former Mayor Megan Barry.

Jeff Gossage was the contracts officer in the Finance Department who greased the wheels for Bert Mathew’s group to be picked over two other proposals that would have preserved more green space at Fort Negley. Gossage left the department in July 2017.

Doug Sloan was one of the seven judges who picked the Mathews plan. He left his post as head of Metro’s Planning Department in November 2017 for a top job at the Airport Authority. Megan Barry resigned March 6.

COB Complaint Advances

Metro’s Board of Ethical Conduct will hear a complaint filed last month against former Mayor Megan Barry by citizen activist Theeda Murphy. The board dismissed Murphy’s charge that Barry violated her own policy regarding ethical standards because it lacks jurisdiction over executive orders. It also decided Barry’s affair with her police bodyguard did not by itself constitute a violation of Metro’s Standards of Conduct policy.

District 12 Councilman Steve Glover introduced a bill last week to include executive orders in the Ethics Board’s purview. The Board will take up two other issues in Murphy’s complaint.

“We are quite pleased. This is more than we expected, really,” Murphy told the Tribune.

The board decided to wait for the city auditor’s report regarding $170,000 in overtime paid by the Mayor’s office to Robert Forrest during his nearly two-year affair with Barry. Both Forrest and Barry pleaded guilty to theft and agreed to pay back the city $45,000 and $11,000 respectively. The board may make them pay more.

City Auditor Mark Swann said he will submit his findings to the City Council by the end of March. The ethics board will meet again in April.

The Ethics Board will also consider if the relationship between Forrest and Barry influenced her to act or defer on MNPD business and policy and, if so, whether that would constitute an ethics violation. That is the crux of Murphy’s complaint and she said the Board’s decision to move forward on it felt like hitting a home run.

“We get to do a full investigation on everything we were alleging,” she said.

“We get to do a full investigation on everything we were alleging,” said Theeda Murphy

The board will investigate Murphy’s claim that Barry failed to hold the Metro Police Department and Chief Steve Anderson responsible for the death of Jocques Clemmons who was killed after a traffic stop in east Nashville February 10, 2017. Josua Lippert, the officer who killed Clemmons, was not disciplined and has since passed the sergeants’ exam.

Murphy alleges Barry’s relationship with Forrest influenced her to block the creation of a Citizens Oversight Board (COB) of MNPD. In June 2017, a Davidson County grand Jury recommended the city establish one. Barry waffled on the issue and eventually came out against it.

Forrest’s supervisor, Michael Alexander, sent Chief Anderson an email last October about Murphy’s group, Community Oversight Now, which at the time was organizing people to show up at a city council meeting to support a COB. Public records show Lt. Douglas Bell sent emails to Alexander and Forrest about the group’s intention to lobby former Mayor Megan Barry on the issue.

“This was something the Mayor didn’t have anything to do with because it’s a council matter. Why would the officers who are over her security detail need to know this?” asked Murphy.

The Ethics Board will decide whether MNPD unduly influenced Barry to sandbag efforts to establish a COB. In January a bill to create one died in the city council.

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