Where to start?

This evening, Mayor Barry acknowledged publicly that she had an extramarital affair with her now former security detail leader. It’s shocking news.

As an At-Large member of the Metro Council, I think it’s my job to communicate the feelings of the county as I understand them. Because the news is so new, maybe tonight’s sentiments will be wrong and won’t stand the test of time (or even a few days). But I don’t think it does any good to remain silent.

My first reaction was to think about the various people and families involved. There must be pain and difficulty all around this evening. That’s a shame. I feel bad for the families that are involved.

Beyond that, the two things people are talking to me about are whether this impacts how we should think about the Mayor as a person, and whether this impacts how we should think of her as the city’s leader.

First, as a person, I don’t know the circumstances of the private lives (to the extent they are private) of the people involved. I can’t judge them.

I do want to mention the reactions from my 14 and 16 year old daughters about the news. Of course, due to other world social media skills, kids these days know everything at least as quickly as adults do. One said, “I’m mad. I liked her.” The other said, “Odd. Surprising.” I counseled them to not judge. The bottom line is that a role model was diminished today.

As for the Mayor’s ability to lead, I think that’s going to be complicated. As she noted in her comments to the media today, there are probably more bad days ahead on this.

I think the idea that the travel was totally okay because she needed security anyway is not very satisfying without knowing more. As a friend of mine texted me earlier this evening, “The misuse of tax funds and trust issues are big. Two consenting adults or not.” I don’t know enough yet to comment on whether there was any misuse of tax funds. But the Mayor has already acknowledged that the situation shows poor judgment — she said, “I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway.” And her press statement also explained that she’s disappointed in herself. We’re disappointed too.

More broadly, the question is about what this significant example of admitted poor judgment means for Nashville? For transit? For soccer? I have heard a few argue that the merits of the projects remain unchanged…so there should be no impact. Many more feel that the city’s trust and confidence in her is deeply tied into her administration’s objectives.

Just yesterday, for example, Joey Garrison posted a short video clip of the Mayor responding to a question about whether the city should be committing to the full transit price tag before knowing the details about exactly what will be built and when. The Mayor’s response, and I am paraphrasing some of this, was that, yes, it is a lot of money and there are details to work out later, but everyone will have to make a “little leap of faith.” Well, that answer yesterday captures the issue. Will questions about trust and confidence keep people from making that leap of faith? Will the Mayor be able to repair the trust relationship with voters before a transit referendum takes place? Will the Mayor be able to continue to be the face of the pro-transit advocacy efforts?

There are also a lot of questions about the use of government resources. Citizens will also want to know “who knew?” Did the rest of her security detail know? These are all fair and expected questions. At the press conference today, the Mayor apparently said that her office would make all records available. I expect multiple people in government and in media will take her up on that. As one of two Council members on the Metro Audit Committee, I think it is appropriate for Metro Audit to be involved in this process. This evening, I asked the Metro Audit Department to review today’s media reports and propose a scope of inquiry about the expense questions that are being raised. I imagine the Mayor is expecting this to happen.

I am definitely asking questions more than I am giving answers. But again, for tonight, I just want to express what I am hearing from our neighbors. I am sure this situation will continue to develop in the coming days.

Finally, to comment more specifically on transit…the Council will vote on February 6 about whether to put the transit referendum on the ballot on May 1, or not. I assume that the very well funded PACs behind the referendum push are going to do some quick polling before next Tuesday’s vote to get some sense of what it means when the face of your campaign has this sort of news about 70 days before early voting. I don’t know the answer. But I would urge that, if the polling looks weak, don’t hide that fact. Act on it. Share the information.

I’ll update my thoughts if necessary. Thanks, everyone. This hasn’t been a great day, but we’ll be okay. Nashville is stronger than the news of any one day.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.