Murfreesboro attorney wants full accounting from mayor

Ketron should be prohibited from seeking re-election, says lawyer

Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron speaks to residents in a March address on COVID-19. (Photo: rutherfordcountytn.gov)
Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron speaks to residents in a March address on COVID-19. (Photo: rutherfordcountytn.gov)

A Murfreesboro attorney is asking the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance to require Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron to explain illegal and undocumented contributions to his campaign or be prevented from seeking re-election.

Brad Hornsby, an attorney with Bulloch, Fly, Hornsby & Evans in Murfreesboro, sent a letter Tuesday to Bill Young, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, requesting an investigation into Ketron’s campaign finances be reopened.

The Registry of Election Finance recently voted to levy a $135,000 civil penalty against Ketron in connection with 474 findings from separate audits of his Senate, Quest PAC and mayoral campaign accounts. 

In his letter, Hornsby noted one finding showed $5,000 in illegal contributions were made to Ketron while about $90,000 in undocumented contributions were made. If the mayor is unable to account for the money, he should be prohibited from running for re-election in 2022, Hornsby said in the letter.

Hornsby’s firm was involved in two claims involving Ketron’s daughter, Kelsey Ketron Randolph, whom he put in charge of his insurance agency even though she was unlicensed. Randolph pleaded guilty to insurance fraud last year for taking insurance payments and keeping the money instead of putting it toward policies.

After two years of auditing Ketron’s accounts, state officials said in the recent meeting there were several items involving tens of thousands of dollars that could not be resolved. 

Hornsby contends the Registry should reopen the investigation “to require Mr. Ketron to account for the undocumented contributions, thefts of money from the campaign accounts and to be required to answer when he discovered his daughter began stealing from insurance clients and his campaigns.”

Young said Wednesday he and the Registry’s legal counsel are looking into Hornsby’s request and “hope to respond.”

Murfreesboro attorney Brad Hornsby pointed out Ketron can reward his contributors in many ways, and asked the Registry of Election Finance to require Ketron to disclose the sources of illegal contributions —or prohibit him from running for reelection.

Voters should be able to find out the source of campaign contributions prior to an election, Hornsby wrote.

“The County Mayor has many important tasks that can be used to ‘reward’ his contributors. We are facing a serious issue with waste and the current operators of the landfill are seeking to expand their operations while about nine other businesses are seeking county business,” Hornsby wrote. “It is VERY important to know whether any of these entities, along with other entities, made illegal or other contributions to Bill Ketron.”

Republic Services, which operates Middle Point Landfill in Rutherford County, is requesting permission to expand the facility. Meanwhile, the county is taking bids for waste service.

Hornsby pointed out that while Ketron was “willing to throw his daughter under the proverbial bus,” neither of them have accounted for the expenses. 

“Finally, using a term Senator (Howard) Baker used during the President Nixon investigations, it is important to know what Bill Ketron knew and when he knew it (if he knew she was stealing from the campaign and took no action while the stealing continued, this is important for the voters to know),” he wrote.

Rutherford County Commissioner Robert Stevens was critical of the Registry’s decision to drop $80,000 in previous penalties against Ketron for late filings. He also questioned whether state law allows for a Registry move to allow Ketron to set up a payment plan to chip away at the $135,000 penalty.

During an April meeting, Ketron, a former state senator and chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, accepted responsibility for nearly $300,000 in questionable campaign contributions and expenditures but laid most of the blame on his daughter and his decision to keep her in charge of the accounts.

Ketron told Registry board members he didn’t knowingly do anything wrong and said his problems stemmed from bookkeeping errors, transactions posted on wrong reports and at least one deposit being entirely overlooked.

Nashville attorney Trey Harwell, who is representing Ketron in the case, did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.