Sunday, February 22, 2015

A sad day ends as it had to end.

As you are now aware, Bryan Carson resigned as Chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party in yesterday's specially called meeting of the Executive Committee.

This had been building for some time, as the EC (on which I serve from House 90)  could not get timely written treasurer's reports from the Chair.  At the February regular meeting (which I could not attend due to recovery from my surgery), the EC voted to have an audit of the Party's books, and requested Diane Cambron and Dick Klenz to conduct that audit.   This was also in light of the fact that the Chair had not filed timely disclosures with the state Registry of Election Finance, which has caused the Party to incur fines.

Unbeknownst to the EC, the results of the audit had triggered a private meeting of the Steering Committee last Sunday, at which time the Chair was asked to provide documentation for over 60 cash withdrawals from an ATM card from the Party's bank account.  These took place in a period from September 1 through February 2.  He was given until Wednesday of this past week to produce them, when the Steering Committee would meet again, in an undisclosed location.  The EC was told that this meeting would occur, but that any comments would have to wait until after the meeting.

Personal note: I understand why this was closed, and then 1st Vice Chair, now Chair Dave Cambron said that they were advised by the TNDP to close those meetings, as well as the meeting yesterday.  I still do not agree with that decision, we are a public body and we have to let the chips fall where they may.  I digress.

After the Wednesday Steering Committee meeting, the EC was notified by Rose Ann Bradley, our peerless secretary, that the SC had given Chair Carson a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE, and it was UNANIMOUS.  As only the EC can vote to remove a member or an officer, that was as much as could be done at that time. What none of us on the EC knew was WHY.

What we learned from the audit was the aforementioned cash withdrawals, that Jonathan Lewis, whom we had approved to serve as the Party Treasurer months earlier, had reviewed the books and refused to accept the position.  Worse, Bryan had, without informing the EC, served as his own treasurer, which is not in accordance with campaign finance laws.

I have worked in politics since 1978.  EVERY donation or expenditure by a campaign or a party must be documented beyond a certain level.  If at all possible, you avoid paying any bills in cash.  If your vendor insists on receiving cash, you have to demand an detailed invoice as to what services were received for this transaction.  Without any documentation, Carson had no way to support his claims that all of these withdrawals from the Party account were to pay for Party business.

Because he couldn't provide documentation, he couldn't fill out disclosures, and the downward spiral escalated at warp speed.

I don't know what happened, and neither do you.  We can all speculate at the end of the day, but we don't know.  When your actions raise questions that cannot be answered, you cannot remain in your position.

When Carson asked for a show of hands to see who wanted him to resign, there was a backlash from many of the members.  Nate Jackson, who serves on the Steering Committee, and who has known Bryan since Bryan was a child, nearly broke down as he explained to the EC (in particular, members who inexplicably didn't seem to be disturbed by these findings) that the story was in the bank statements, and implored Bryan to resign.  Nate pointed out that had Bryan resigned at the Steering Committee meeting the prior Wednesday, the Saturday meeting would not have had to take place.

Personal note: I have worked on Party matters with Nate Jackson for over 20 years.  I trust him implicitly, he cuts through bullshit like a knife through soft butter.  I could not have been prouder of him for saying what he said.

Next, Virgie Banks (also President of the Democratic Women of Shelby County) spoke and told Bryan that any decision was up to HIM, not the committee.  She told him that he knew in his heart what he needed to do, and he should do it.  She told him to man up at one point.

Terrance Turnage, while a newcomer to the EC, has been around for a while, agreed that Bryan had to make the decision, while chastising other members of the EC (with justification, I will add) that some of them had done little or nothing for the Party while suddenly becoming interested when this situation happened.

While Carson wanted to turn over operational control of the Party to Dave Cambron, including the March 5 meeting and the two re-organizational meetings on March 14 and 28,  he did not want to resign his position.  Presumably, he apparently believed that would allow him viability for a proposed race for City Council District 7 this fall.

Then, my friend, my County Commissioner, and fellow EC member Reginald Milton spoke and disabused him of that notion.  He was forceful yet gentle, and got to the point.

After that, Carson said he had heard enough and said, simply, "I resign".

To be blunt, because of the requirements of the removal process, it would have required 46 votes to remove him and there weren't 46 members there, sadly, so he could not have been removed if he had refused to resign.  However, if he had said he would not resign, I would have made a motion that the Steering Committee take the information to the DAG office to press charges.  I would have cried while doing it, but I was prepared to do so.

UPDATE with CORRECTION: I received the following message from Rose Bradley which I want to share:  As verified with the State, our present number is 56 (we cannot count vacancies in a vote) so a quorum of two-thirds would be 37 which we surpassed at the meeting.  After the calling of the roll several members continued to come in making the 46 that Del keeps thinking that we needed (and we don’t count non-voting members such as ex-officio like he thinks).  The total necessary voting members were there prior to the vote that we didn’t have to have. 

Thankfully, Bryan did the right thing and resigned.  If he had been allowed to walk out of that meeting as Chair, even nominally, it would have sent a message to the public that the Shelby County Democratic Party had no institutional self-control and could not regain it.  No current or future donor would even think about contributing to a party that could not guarantee that their donations would be used as intended.  Bryan saved us from that by resigning, but, to be truthful, he could have done it sooner.

I am sad about this situation, as I like Bryan personally, but this is not personal, it's business.  I feel for his mother, my friend, and force of nature, Gale Jones Carson, who served as Chair from 2001-2003.  I served under her on the EC and she would never have tolerated this.  While we didn't see eye to eye, when it came to finances, she dotted every I and crossed every T and was always on time with disclosures.  This has to hurt and I feel for their family.

Bryan has said he will make full restitution, but the investigation by the Party continues.

It is clear from this situation that we need new people to get involved.  There are good veterans who should continue, but we need new people.  This is why I am going to ask you to come to First Baptist Church-Broad on Saturday, March 14 and join us for our Ward & Precinct Caucuses.  Registration is from 9 Am-10:30 AM, at which time the doors will be locked.  We need you if you are a Democrat, we need all hands on deck, no matter where you live, Arlington or Westwood, Collierville or Lucy, and all points in between.  You won't be sorry you did.


Jon Carroll said...

The confusing thing was the individuals who felt that we, the EC, were at fault for not holding him accountable when multiple times in the last 4 months at meetings, Bryan was questioned for an accurate accounting. He was asked for a treasurer's report. He was evasive, The EC was only at fault due to some of our members have the insane notion that politics is to bring them money and not question the leaders that are their friends. It is not. It is to help the public make wise, informed choices.

Desi Franklin said...

Jon, having served on the committee with many of the current members, I like and respect them and regret being critical - but any time a group of elected leaders allows and acquiesces in such a major failure of leadership, it is appropriate to hold them accountable. They should hold themselves accountable as well, and not act the victim.

Nancy Greenwalt said...

The Executive Committee was deceived and betrayed and yes we were victimized. We were deceived about finances and the status of the treasurer. Upon becoming suspicious we took steps to gain more information through an audit. That led to the resulting resignation of our chairman which is the beginning of corrective action. In our closed meeting we were presented detailed information from the steering committee which we reviewed hastily. Bryan was given an opportunity to present his information and he answered questions from the group. Not everyone agreed that we had enough information to warrant his resignation. Not everyone agreed that corrective action was needed. I appreciate Steve's description of who intervened in encouraging Bryan to step down. It speaks to the intransigence we were facing from a man who attempted to chair the meeting in the beginning. But some of us were also determined to oust him if necessary. In my book that is taking responsibility. I was proud of what we came together to do as a group once we learned of this matter. Obviously we made mistakes. Obviously we could have done better. The investigation is ongoing. Plans to prevent this from occurring again will be implemented. I hope that loyal Democrats will come to the convention to help get the best people elected to this committee.