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Democrat mayor of Nashville resigns after guilty plea
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Mayor Megan Barry is calling it quits.
The beleaguered Democrat mayor of Nashville, Tennessee resigned on Tuesday after pleading guilty to felony theft charges involving an affair with her former security guard.
Barry, the first female mayor of the city, originally admitted to the affair in January while denying criminal wrongdoing. An investigation into the affair prompted by her admission uncovered nude pictures on the phone of Barry’s former head security guard.
The photos were taken at the time of Barry’s affair, which also coincided with leisurely trips reportedly paid with taxpayer dollars. Barry’s bodyguard also pleaded guilty to felony theft Tuesday.
Nashville mayor resigns amid scandal
Vice Mayor David Briley was sworn in as mayor of Nashville on Tuesday evening following Barry’s abrupt departure, which was arranged as part of the plea deal. Barry, surrounded by tearful staffers, gave a short address at a conference at the mayor’s office.
“While my time as mayor today concludes, my unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people will never come to an end,” Barry said. “No one is as excited about this city and its bright and limitless future as I am.” She added:
It has been my honor and it has been the privilege of my entire professional life to have the blessing and the opportunity to be your mayor.
I thank you in advance for the support that I am sure you will give Mayor Briley in the weeks and the months ahead. God bless this wonderful city. I love you, Nashville.
Barry did not mention the criminal charges and did not offer an apology in her address. She had previously apologized for the affair when she shared the news in January.
“Today is primarily about the smooth transition from my administration to that of Vice Mayor Briley,” Barry noted.
Barry was indicted Tuesday and sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation, having pleaded guilty to felony theft of over $10,000. She reimbursed Nashville $11,000 as part of the plea deal.
Investigation fueled scandal
Barry admitted in January to a two-year affair with one of her bodyguards, Sgt. Rob Forrest, who lost his job after she broke the news. She had then apologized but maintained she would not step down.
“I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his. I am so sorry to my husband, Bruce, who has stood by me in my darkest moments and remains committed to our marriage, just as I am committed to repairing the damage I have done,” Barry said in January.
The admission prompted an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that yielded evidence of nude photos of a woman that were taken on Sgt. Forrest’s phone while the two were on taxpayer-funded trips. Court documents released last month revealed that investigators believed two criminal statutes — misconduct of public officials and employees, and theft of property — had been violated.
Barry originally resisted giving investigators access to her phone before finally yielding. The investigation closed Tuesday at the behest of the Davison County District Attorney Glenn Funk.
Forrest was sentenced to three years’ probation and must pay the city back $45,000 of salary and overtime earned when he was not working while on duty.
Misuse of taxpayer money
Even with Barry gone, questions remain about her use of taxpayer funds on trips with Sgt. Forrest.
Forrest reportedly earned hundreds of hours of overtime pay while accompanying Barry on leisurely excursions to yoga classes and concerts in Nashville. Travel expenses also came under scrutiny, as Forrest was the only city employee to accompany Barry on ten taxpayer-funded trips at the time of their affair, from the middle of 2016 into 2017.
Barry admitted to over-staying on trips ostensibly dedicated to city business. Funk said in court that Barry had illegally spent at least $10,000 on Forrest.
The Metro Council will continue to investigate Barry over the alleged misuse of taxpayer money. The investigation could cost taxpayers up to $6,000.
“I am thinking plea bargains are compromises and the fact there has been a plea bargain still leaves the public not knowing what happened,” Councilman Bob Mendes said. “Our role is to understand what happened.”
Passing the torch
Nashville’s new mayor said that Tuesday was a “hard day for Nashville.”
“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,” Briley said.
Among other things, Briley will take up Barry’s proposal to revitalize Nashville transit. Residents will vote in May on Barry’s $5.2 billion proposal to build 26 miles of rail and bus routes and a downtown tunnel.
Elected in September of 2015, Nashville’s first female mayor was seen as a likable progressive figure until scandal sent her career south. Well-liked among liberals, she credited her mayoralty with making progress on numerous issues, such as affordable housing and the economy.
Even after admitting her affair, Barry enjoyed 61 percent approval. She won sympathy from Nashville residents when she lost her only son to a drug overdose in the summer of 2017.
Upon her departure, Barry thanked “thousands of people who have reached out to me, written me, encouraged me, comforted me, worried endlessly about me, grieved with me, and prayed for me during these many difficult and trying months.”
An August election will decide who replaces Barry full-time. If no candidate wins a majority of the votes, a run-off will break the tie in September.
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