NASHVILLE, TN — Plagued by scandal in the wake of her admission of an affair with her now-former security chief, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to theft charges in Davidson County Criminal Court.
A half hour after entering a guilty plea to theft of property over $10,000, a Class C felony, the mayor resigned as part of her plea agreement. She will also pay $11,000 in restitution and serve three years unsupervised probation.
Vice Mayor David Briley, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 and whose grandfather Beverly was the first mayor of Metro, was sworn in as mayor at 5 p.m. Tuesday and will serve as mayor until a special election is held at which point he will return to his position.
“This is a hard day for Nashville. Mayor Barry’s resignation will enable us to regain focus on the important work of our city,” Briley said in a statement. “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.”
Rather than send a deputy as is common practice, District Attorney General Glenn Funk appeared himself at Barry’s court hearing.
“Had this case gone to trial, witnesses are available who would testify that in March 2016 and January 2018 Megan Barry caused … Metro Nashville city funds to be expended unlawfully on Mr. Robert Forrest,” Funk said.
Forrest, the chief of security for Barry and her two predecessors, also pleaded guilty Tuesday, agreeing to pay $45,000 in restitution to the city.
Since admitting to the years-long affair with Forrest in late January, at least three investigations – from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Metro’s ethics board and a special Metro Council committee – have begun looking for evidence of malfeasance, particularly related to spending and travel with Forrest while he was on city time.
The mayor repeatedly insisted she would not resign, despite mounting pressure and increasing questions about her commitment to cooperating with the investigations. An affidavit filed with a search warrant seeking access to her phone alleged that Forrest had nude photos of a woman on his city-owned phone taken while he was clocked in for overtime on Metro travel.
Also during the affair, the procedure for approving travel for the mayor’s security detail changed. Previously approved by the chief of police, it was re-routed to the mayor’s office, though the paperwork still indicated that it had been OK’d by MNPD Chief Steve Anderson, who apparently had never actually seen the approvals.
Barry will become the first Mayor of Metro Nashville to leave office early and only the second not to serve two terms. Mayor Bill Boner did not seek re-election in 1991 in the wake of his engagement to aspiring country singer Tracy Peel while he was still married and the broad civic embarrassment of the couple appearing on “The Phil Donahue Show.”
Barry, largely seen as a social progressive who nevertheless continued the business-friendly policies of her predecessor Karl Dean, was seen as a potential future star in Democratic politics, often mentioned as a possible successor to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper if and when he ever retired.
The last Nashville mayor who didn’t finish a term was Felix Zollicofer Wilson who was voted out of office by the city council in 1922, 17 months after the council suspended his predecessor William Gupton, capping a 13-year period of instability during which the city was placed in receivership.
Read Barry’s full statement:
While my time as your mayor concludes today, my unwavering love and sincere affection for this wonderful city and its great people shall never come to an end.
No one is as excited about this city, and its bright and limitless future, than I am. Nashville, with its boundless energy, its infectious optimism, its never-encountered-an-obstacle-it-couldn’t-overcome attitude, will, in the years ahead, continue its steady march toward the very top of the list of great American cities. It’s a continued climb that I will watch, but I will watch as a private citizen, and I will be tremendously proud nonetheless.
While today is primarily about the smooth transition from my administration to that of Vice Mayor Briley, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge and thank the thousands and thousands of people who have reached out to me, written me, encouraged me, comforted me, worried endlessly about me, and most importantly prayed for me during these many difficult and trying months.
In two and a half short years, we have made great strides and progress on affordable housing, transit, public education, youth opportunity, quality of life, and our economy. None of this would have been possible without my incredible staff, our talented department heads, and all of the dedicated men and women of the Metropolitan Government who have worked hard to make the lives of Nashvillians a little better each day.
They got up yesterday, they got up today, and they will get up again tomorrow devoted to making sure our city sings. And I sincerely hope and believe that my own actions will not tarnish or otherwise detract from all of their great work.
It has been the honor and it has been the privilege of my entire professional life to have had the blessing of this opportunity to be your mayor.
Thank you in advance for the support that I am sure you will give to Mayor Briley in the days and weeks ahead. God bless this wonderful city. I love you, Nashville.
Photo at press conference by J.R. Lind, Patch staff; booking photo via Metro Nashville Police