Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron likely breathed a sigh of relief when the August agenda for the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance was released and his name was nowhere to be found.
But that relief was short-lived.
Just a fortnight later, that same body that oversees campaign finance laws announced it was launching an audit into Ketron's three of his campaign finance committees.
According to The Tennessean, the registry plans to poke around in the PACs' files from 2018 through Q2 2019.
The audit stems from the $60,000 Ketron owes to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. The civil penalties are for filing his campaign finance reports late. And the Tennessee Attorney General is prepared to sued for the fines.
The audit was granted after to two separate people wrote to the registry to request an audit. One those requests came from County Commissioner Robert Stevens of Smyrna.
Back in July Stevens asked the registry to investigate allegations that Ketron misused funds he raised for his state senate campaign and Ketron's Quest PAC to fund his campaign to become county mayor.
Specifically, Stevens pointed to more than $30,000 in expenditures from 2017-2018 where funds were transferred from Quest PAC and Ketron's state senate campaign for in-kind services, a campaign vehicle and cash donation to Ketron's county mayor campaign.
"The PAC contribution limit for local campaigns during 2017 and 2018 was $7,800; it therefore appears that Quest PAC exceeded that limit by $20,528.98 through its in-kind contributions to (Ketron's) campaign," Stevens wrote in his letter.
Thorn in Ketron's side
Stevens has been a thorn in the side of our county mayor for a while now.
That's why it wasn't a surprise when he lost his post as chairman of the commission's Steering Committee last week. And, boy howdy, are there questions about that meeting.
First, Commissioner Jeff Phillips led the vote to elected the chairman of the County Commission. The county mayor isn't automatically named the chairman. It takes two votes and must be confirmed with a second vote at the September meeting.
Phillips asked for nominations and then asked for a voice vote. Stevens objected to the vote by acclamation and asked for a recorded vote.
That vote came out 18-1-1-1. Robert Stevens voted against, Rhonda Allen abstained for some reason, and Robert Peay was absent.
You can watch the votes and Steering Committee nominations in this video. It should be queued, but if it isn't, the drama starts at about 21 minutes in.
The next vote was for the Steering Committee, which did not go off without a hitch. The committee is seen as the commission's most prestigious and powerful.
During the nominations, Phillips stood for both Craig Harris and Allen McAdoo. The County Commission follows Robert's Rules of Order, which state "A member shouldn’t offer more than one nomination to a position if there are several seats for the same office — such as for nominees to a board or a committee — until all other members have had the opportunity to make nominations."
Phillips made his nomination of McAdoo before Robert Stevens made the final nomination.
According to Robert's Rules, this makes the voice vote to elect the Steering Committee null and void.
That means that the Steering Committee isn't officially elected and the subsequent vote by the committee to elect its chairman and vice chairman is also null and void.
Spekaing of the chair and vice chair vote, this brings up another question.
The Steering Committee leaves the room to elect the chair and vice chair. It's important (as you will see) to record who votes for who in this.
Plus, is that legal? Does it violate the Tennessee Open Meetings Act to hold the vote in private? Is it illegal or just odd?
After the vote was held, it should not have been a surprise to Stevens that his chairmanship was usurped by a first-year commissioner.
Craig Harris had been elected the next Steering Committee chairman and Pettus Read as the vice chair.
Because the vote was held in private (behind closed doors in a metaphorical smoke-filled room), we can't know for sure who voted for whom but I've heard that Harris, Read, Allen McAdoo and Steve Ervin voted for the eventual chair and vice chair. That would mean that Stevens, Mike Kusch and Michael Wrather were the dissenting votes.
This makes sense because Stevens would vote for himself, Wrather was nominated by Stevens and Ervin was nominated by Rhonda Allen, who abstained from the commission chair vote.
That means at least these four commissioners seem to stand in opposition to Ketron.
Is this a sign that there are fractures growing on the County Commission about Bill Ketron, his leadership and how he is running the county?
In turn, has he manipulated the Steering Committee to his advantage? To what ends? Is he trying to protect himself?
With all the scandals swirling around him, I wouldn't be surprised at all.
Steering Committee Nominations
Craig Harris by Jeff Phillips
Pettus Read by Joe Gourley
Steve Ervin by Paul Johnson
Mike Kusch by Rhonda Allen
Robert Stevens by Wrather
Allen McAdoo by Jeff Phillips
Michael Wrather by Robert Stevens