Davidson Co. election commission chair resigns, audit launched following I-Team investigation



The top election official in Nashville resigned and Mayor Megan Barry ordered an audit of spending in the Davidson County Election Commission following findings of a Channel 4 I-Team investigation.

Chairman Ron Buchanan submitted his resignation three days after referring to a member of the I-Team as a bitch on camera.

A nearly two-month investigation by the I-Team exposed what a city council member called questionable spending by Election Administrator Kent Wall at restaurants and for office decorations.

Some of the spending at the restaurants was for Buchanan’s meals.

The Metro policy reads the use of Metro credit cards for meals at local restaurants is “generally not allowable,” especially for non-travel-related meals.

Yet the I-Team found that Wall and Buchanan racked up $123 at Sperry’s, an upscale restaurant in Belle Meade.

Our investigation also found the pair dined at Sam’s Place, another Belle Meade establishment, to discuss “DCEC business” on the taxpayers’ dime. Wall also used a Metro credit card at restaurants including Catia’s and Dalt’s.

Those purchases are small compared to what else we found to decorate Wall’s office.

Receipts show Wall spent $140 for a frame of the Nashville skyline, nearly $150 for lamps and bookends and $614 to frame a map of Metro’s districts.

The purchases came both before and after a controversial vote made by the Davidson County Election Commission in June 2015.

The commission voted to shut down 10 early voting sites, citing a budget shortfall, even though their budget was roughly $1 million more than the previous year.

At the time, Metro Councilman Ronnie Steine said, “They’re trying to hold everyone hostage in the community by claiming if they don’t get money for more internal office positions, somehow they can’t have the early voting sites.”

Eventually, the commission and the council reached a compromise, with the city funding an additional $283,500.

The same month those sites were shut down, Buchanan and Wall ate at Sperry’s.

Councilman Jim Shulman, who chairs the committee that oversees public elections, wonders if that kind of spending was appropriate.

“You’re talking about government – not about private business,” Shulman said.

The I-Team requested Wall’s credit card statements and other documentation. Nearly a month after our request, Wall announced he would retire on March 31.

The commission reported that we could get his credit card usage on March 31.

The I-Team then requested to receive the documents earlier than March 31, and Buchanan and Wall agreed to meet with us off camera to discuss their spending.

They explained in the meeting that all their dinners were to discuss business and was approved.

Wall refused to go on camera, but Buchanan agreed to give a statement on camera. The I-Team made it clear that after Buchanan made his statement, we still intended to ask him questions.

With our photojournalist recording, I-Team reporter Alanna Autler can be heard saying to a spokeswoman for the commission, “And if he (Buchanan) doesn’t want to answer, that’s fine.”

As our photojournalist adjusted the camera and pointed towards Buchanan, he reached out and put his hands on the lens, saying we did not have permission to turn on the camera, despite earlier agreeing to give a statement on camera.

Buchanan then took a brief phone call and stepped back in front of the camera.

“Mr. Buchanan, how do you explain certain expenses like $123 at Sperry’s with Kent Wall?” asked Autler.

“You have asked for 175 charges on his credit card. We provided you with every charge. You came back and asked for 25 explanations and receipts. We gave you every one of those and we spent the last hour going through every one of those charges with you. Every one of those charges was approved by the finance director for the Davidson County Election Commission and submitted to the department of treasury without any question. You’re the only one that has raised an issue to any of these charges,” Buchanan said.

“Is it acceptable that you went to a restaurant such as Sperry’s for something that was Davidson County Election Commission business?” Autler asked.

“That charge was for a business meeting to discuss the budget on June 30 when the budget was approved July 1 and it was a very legitimate purchase,” Buchanan said.

“Could you have gone to another restaurant that was perhaps not as expensive?” Autler asked.

“That’s it,” Buchanan said, walking away from the camera.

“Can you explain the picture frame that was $614?” Autler asked.

“That’s it,” Buchanan said.

“That’s it?” Autler said.

“That’s exactly the kind of bitch I thought you would be,” Buchanan said.

“Wow, do you want to say that again Mr. Buchanan?” Autler asked.

“No,” Buchanan said.

At that point, commission spokeswoman Nancy DeKalb stepped in and asked for the conversation to stop.

Our photojournalist continued to record, and DeKalb responded, “Why are you putting me on here guys? Can you tell her to turn off the camera?”

When the I-Team explained that we intended to air Buchanan’s reaction, DeKalb said she understood and then walked away.

The commissioner is expected to go before the Metro Council Monday night to discuss the election, but Shulman said he expects the I-Team’s findings to be discussed.

Buchanan initially apologized after our conversation, but told The Tennessean newspaper that he stands by his comments.

After learning of our findings and Buchanan’s comments, Mayor Megan Barry ordered an immediate review of the entire Metro credit card policy and canceled the credit cards for Buchanan and Wall.

Barry said she was displeased with Buchanan’s comments.

“If you’re appointed official, you have to bring to bear your best self all the time, and the confidence that electorate needs on you is that you’re never belligerent or demeaning to someone who’s asking you a very valid question,” Barry said.

House Speaker Beth Harwell also called Buchanan’s actions completely unacceptable and she believes Buchanan should step down.

DeKalb said A.J. Starling will serve as interim chairman until the state election commission recommends another candidate to replace Buchanan.

To read Buchanan’s full letter of resignation, click here.

Copyright 2016 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Source: NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) Channel 4
Davidson Co. election commission chair resigns, audit launched following I-Team investigation

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