To avoid further “distractions” with furniture purchases, Murfreesboro City Manager Rob Lyons says the city will stop buying from A-Z Office Resource in Antioch, where his wife is an account manager.
Apparently the distraction was one little reporter question.
But alas, piggybacking on a low bid offered to local governments, the city bought $27,700 worth of furniture for the Planning and Engineering Department and nearly $255,500 for the St. Clair Street Senior Center from A-Z this year, with Lyons’ wife, Dana, preparing the purchase orders, city records show.
Lyons says he consulted the city attorney to avoid violating city guidelines or stepping into a conflict of interest before OK’ing the purchases—a wise move, no doubt.
City officials say they paid no commission to A-Z, and to top off the bargain, Mrs. Lyons, an interior decorator, donated her services for the remodeling of City Hall, a half-million-dollar project for repainting, new flooring, etc.
Murfreesboro residents are probably glad to know they got the rock-bottom price for new furnishings. But pesky people such as reporters want to know why Lyons didn’t disclose to the council that his wife worked for the company before it approved the contracts, both of which were done on the consent agenda, which is considered so unimportant the council approves everything with no discussion.
It would have been easy for Lyons to say something like, “Incidentally, my wife is handling the account for A-Z.” Of course, if he had done this in a City Council meeting, it would have been broadcast across town for everyone to hear.
Never fear, though. People throughout the city heard about it anyway and started doing what people do: talk.
And when folks are talking, it’s usually because they think something’s not on the up-and-up. So while Lyons, Mayor Shane McFarland and the City Council defend their furniture purchases, people across town are trashing them.
Some people say such crazy things such as: “The appearance of impropriety is just as bad as impropriety.” Well, people don’t really talk like that, but you get the meaning.
Others say if there is a potential conflict of interest, go to the next lowest bidder. Then you can still get a good price and avoid the “distractions” of media questions.
Lyons is a smart guy, at least smart enough to get the job as city manager. The question is whether he’s smart enough to keep it. Local media let him off the hook on one previous personal matter that I won’t get into here. And if he wants to maintain a desk at City Hall, he needs a strong evaluation this September.
Giving business to his wife’s company is no way to do it, even if city leaders say they’re more concerned about the low bid than the look of an inside job.
You have to hand it to Lyons’ wife, though. If she did the interior decorating at City Hall and put together the bids and purchase orders for these city projects without getting one thin dime from the city or A-Z Office Resource, she’s got to be the nicest person in Rutherford County, a true public servant. Maybe we should make her the city manager, so she can work free of charge.
Burgess Kept Mouth Closed
The Rutherford County Commission has been going back and forth with the citizen group Rutherford Neighborhood Alliance for more than five years over whether to keep the Cope and McCreary law firm to handle legal services or to set up a county legal department.
In all that time, Mayor Ernest Burgess never mentioned one word—not so much as a peep—about hiring members of the firm to help set up his construction company in 1996 or to do legal work for him and his wife on estate planning and other matters during his mayoral terms.
Asked why he didn’t disclose the connection, Burgess says in hindsight he probably should have. But then he adds he never saw the relevance during all this discussion of disclosing that one of the firm’s attorneys, Jeff Reed, wrote the organizational articles for Burgess Construction & Development.
In the mayor’s defense, Burgess was prepared to dump Jim Cope as county attorney in 2012 when the County Commission wanted to hire an in-house counsel. Burgess recommended as much. But then a new group of commissioners led a vote to keep Cope, saying it would cost too much to hire a bunch of lawyers.
Even the dullest tool in the shed understands one person can’t handle all of the county’s legal work. Then again, when you consider the county has spent $1.75 million the last two years on legal fees and services, most of it going to the Cope and McCreary firms, that’s a little hard to swallow. Or maybe it’s because we’ve got a bunch of lamebrains doing stupid stuff that makes the county a legal target.
Either way, we’re doling out enough money to put a small dent in Fort Knox.
It must be noted here that Cope renegotiated the firm’s legal services agreement and inserted a provision enabling Josh McCreary to become county attorney in case something happened to him. As fate would have it, Cope resigned his post last October just before pleading guilty to federal insider trading charges. His law license is suspended for the next 15 months or so, and he’s no longer a member of the firm.
At the same time, the Rutherford Neighborhood Alliance contends the firm broke state law, legal ethical guidelines and county ethics rules by billing the county more than $10,000 for time spent negotiating the legal services agreement in 2012. The matter was supposed to be considered by the county’s Ethics Committee on July 31.
Some people would call that having your cake and eating it, too. Others would call it underhanded. Still others would call it illegal. The firm says it’s old hat and a non-issue.
The RNA also has accused the firm of churning legal work such as land acquisition through eminent domain in order to collect more fees when property owners were willing to take the county’s first offer without a court fight. Another complaint is that the firm has too many clients besides the county, causing it to have conflicts of interest.
But anyway, getting back to this thing with Burgess, most people in Rutherford County say he’s the most honest person they’ve ever met. One person once told me: If Ernest Burgess says it’s raining outside, I just get out the umbrella. Or something like that, anyway.
No doubt about it: Burgess, who is preparing to run for state Senate in 2018 and leave the mayor’s seat after 12 years, is about as upright as politicians come. He spends more time working on county business than anyone ever has. He knows where every penny sits.
Some folks, however, believe he should have told the County Commission he hired the Cope and McCreary firm for both business and personal work before and after he became mayor. A simple sentence would have sufficed.
Then the people and the County Commission could have decided whether it’s a problem.
From Russia With Love
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais supports legislation setting up tougher sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, saying they’re all trying to harm Americans and the country’s international interests.
Most people would agree we need to take steps keep those enemies at bay. We need to stop Iran from developing nuclear technology, keep North Korea from delivering missiles at U.S. targets and punish Russia’s actions in Ukraine as well as its cyber activities.
In a press statement, the South Pittsburg Republican DesJarlais said the United States “must negotiate from a position of global strength, a priority of congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump.”
That’s a common-sense approach.
Too bad there’s a big stumbling block: Russian President Vladimir Putin has President Trump by the gonads, wooing him with his KGB smile.
While special counsel Robert Mueller is leading a probe into Trump’s connection to Russia and whether he tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign with it, DesJarlais is pooh-poohing the matter.
During Republicans’ Reagan Day Dinner in Murfreesboro, DesJarlais accused the national media of bias against Trump, calling coverage of the president “complete and utter nonsense.” Maybe he’s more comfortable with Russian media coverage.
But if you read any of the stories about Trump and his financial connections to Russia, Deutsche Bank, the Russian mob, etc., they don’t sound like “utter nonsense.” When you’re desperate for money, you gotta go where someone will lend it to you. And if you’re a Russian oligarch or the president of Russia, you’re happy to lend money to an American big shot. That’s how they dig in their hooks.
If you don’t believe me, just do a web search for Trump and Russian lending, and you’ll have plenty of “fake” news to read.
DesJarlais was just kidding at the dinner when he said, “Don’t talk to any Russians.” Now he’s saying put sanctions on them, which he sealed with an official congressional vote.
Which one is it, though, a joke or serious business? I’m betting on the latter.