A day after denying knowledge of sexual harassment complaints against him within the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Rutherford County mayoral candidate Joe Carr went on the offensive.
Carr, a former three-term Republican state house member from Lascassas, posted copies on Facebook Wednesday of the state’s harassment investigation of him, saying, “Liberal big government bureaucrats just don’t sleep, do they?”
In the lengthy Facebook post, first reported by the Tennessee Journal, Carr says he has no scandals to hide and contends he can’t be put on the defensive, before going through the “accusations” against him and dismissing each one from his time as an assistant commissioner in Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.
Carr, who ran a strong Tea Party candidacy against former U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in 2014 before becoming a perennial candidate in other political races, announced his candidacy Tuesday for the Rutherford County mayoral seat where he is likely to face Mayor Bill Ketron in 2022.
Dealing with urban sprawl, apartment construction, school crowding and limited space in Middle Point Landfill are his main running points. But questions about sexual harassment complaints started swirling long before he decided to run.
In an interview with the Tennessee Lookout, Carr says he decided to leave the Department of Environment and Conservation mainly because of the long, difficult drive to downtown Nashville from his home in rural eastern Rutherford County. He adds he had no intention of staying with the Lee Administration for more than two years and left on good terms.
Yet asked Tuesday if harassment complaints affected his decision to leave, he said, “What harassment complaint?” Pressed further about whether a harassment complaint was filed against him, Carr said, “I would like to see it if they did.”
By Wednesday morning, though, Carr posted lengthy explanations about complaints investigated by TDEC. In one case, he told a woman she had a pretty smile, which made her feel uncomfortable. In another instance in which human resources found no evidence to support, he told a woman she was cute and was dismissive about the #MeToo movement. In other cases, he told yet another woman she had a “cute pink nose” after commenting she had a sunburn and called another woman a “professional escort” because she was doing a good job of giving him a tour.
Carr’s commentary is accompanied by state documents detailing the anonymous complaints about his comments toward women, in addition to unwanted hugs. Some of them are confirmed and some unconfirmed by investigators.
He dismisses claims he said he had a “crush” on a woman, saying instead he had a “crush” on her work habits. Carr says there was also no evidence he hugged anyone inappropriately or that he made “retaliatory threats” against people who “blew the whistle” about his comments.
“But of course, that didn’t stop some liberal bureaucrats from trying to create drama because a conservative like myself was serving in the administration,” Carr writes on his Facebook post.
Another complaint dealt with what Carr calls “locker room talk,” not inappropriate claims about women, “just stupid male anatomy jokes.” Two alleged incidents could not be proven, he says. In another instance, a man in the restroom was not offended when he Carr says he “made a joke about the water in the urinal being cold/deep.”
“I wasn’t aware that the fella from the other complaints was apparently in the bathroom spying on us and reporting back,” Carr writes on his Facebook post.
Carr vs. Ketron in the offing
Former colleagues in the state Legislature, Carr and Ketron are expected to face off in the 2022 mayoral race to lead one of the state’s biggest and fastest-growing counties, one in which the winner will deal with myriad issues.
Ketron will carry his own baggage into the race, assuming he successfully deals with a $135,000 civil penalty by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for 472 findings in audits of his state Senate, Quest PAC and mayoral campaign accounts. After two years of auditing and working with Ketron’s attorneys, the Registry was unable to resolve many of the findings with Ketron’s attorneys.
To run for re-election, Ketron will have to pay any penalties before the qualifying deadline, noon Feb. 17, 2022.
The former state senator did not admit any wrongdoing in an April hearing with the Registry board but accepted responsibility for allowing his daughter, Kelsey Ketron Randolph, to handle his campaign accounts. In addition to the litany of problems with Ketron’s political accounts, his daughter pleaded guilty last year to insurance fraud, which forced Ketron to close the insurance business started by his father.
Because of those financial problems, Ketron’s attorney requested a payment plan at the April meeting. The Registry board asked its executive director to negotiate payments with Ketron and come back with a proposal at its meeting in July. But Ketron’s attorney offered two weeks ago to pay a $135,000 civil penalty.
Questions still surround an $80,000 civil penalty the board ordered previously for late reports and other shortcomings by Ketron.
Carr says Ketron’s problems with the Registry board affected his decision to run only indirectly but notes he believes “there’s an issue of integrity and transparency and honesty that translates to these big issues that confront the county.”
The challenger says his priority is getting a handle on Rutherford’s waste management issues and privately-owned Middle Point Landfill. He doesn’t agree with the county’s bidding process for companies to handle Rutherford’s waste management.
Carr also is bothered by the fact Middle Point Landfill takes a large percentage of its garbage from neighboring counties such as Davidson. Republic Services, the landfill operator, recently requested an expansion but withdrew it after public outcry.
In addition, Carr believes the county needs to develop a “vision” for development, one that doesn’t include apartments. Though the county mayor’s office has no control over the Murfreesboro Planning Department or City Council, which approve apartment construction plans within Murfreesboro’s municipal limits, Carr says he would work “collaboratively” to support a vision to retain the county’s heritage and diversity.