The Montgomery County district attorney’s office is looking into allegations of a sitting Clarksville city councilmember living outside of his ward and also the city limits.
Clarksville Mayor Pro Tem Richard Garrett has allegedly lived outside of his ward for at least six months, after he bought a home in the Stones Manor subdivision, according to assessor of property records and documents filed with Connie Gunnett, Montgomery County’s register of deeds.
“The owners of the property at 1488 Collins View Way are Richard and Laquavia Garrett,” Gunnett said. “According to the assessor of property records, the property address matches the mailing address, which would indicate the couple likely lives there.”
The seller notarized the sale of the house to the Garretts in July, according to Gunnett.
Clarksville law said candidates for mayor and city council shall be residents of the city and shall have lived in the city for 12 months before the election.
Additionally, it said councilmembers shall live for the duration of their term of office in the ward from which they were elected to serve.
Main Street Clarksville reached out to Garrett, who did not deny the allegations regarding his residency.
“Based on my understanding of the city charter, I’m still eligible to represent the best interest of those in Ward 1,” Garrett said. “I still meet the criteria.”
Garrett said he is still a homeowner in Ward 1, but said, “No comment,” when asked whether he still lives in the home.
Ethics complaint, ouster requests filed
A Clarksville resident and a Montgomery County commissioner each submitted requests for Garrett’s ouster from Clarksville City Council.
Citizen Bruce Griffy filed the first request for ouster against Garrett in late October.
Clarksville city attorney Lance Baker told Griffy in an email dated Oct. 30 that pursuant to rules of professional conduct for Tennessee lawyers, he would not be able to conduct the ouster investigation himself, but is required to refer the matter to the local district attorney's office.
Two months later, on Dec. 17, Baker sent an email to Griffy to inform him the allegations against Garrett were discussed in an extensive telephone conversation the city attorney had with Deputy District Attorney Danny Brollier.
“He and I and District Attorney John Carney expect to meet soon regarding this matter, which will include providing documentation to the DA that my office has acquired,” Baker said. “I am informed that Assistant DA Art Bieber is likely to be assigned to this matter.”
Baker told Griffy the allegation would be fully investigated, and the district attorney would make a determination about what action, if any, to take against Garrett.
Baker indicated the investigation was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with him and others having to work outside the office.
“I can assure you this matter is being taken seriously and will not be ignored,” Baker said. “But investigations take time, so please have some patience.”
Last week, Montgomery County Commissioner James Lewis, who served for 10 years as a Clarksville city councilman, filed an ouster complaint for the same reason.
Lewis took the matter one step further and sent an accusation of an ethics violation to the city, which was notarized Jan. 12.
The document charged Garrett didn’t live in the ward in which he was elected to serve.
“I am asking that an investigation be done and that if to be found in violation, Mr. Garrett be ousted from the Clarksville City Council,” Lewis said in the document.
Councilman inquires about formal complaints
In a special-called council meeting Jan. 14, Councilman Wallace Redd said he learned about the investigation and publicly inquired about it with Baker.
Redd told Baker he had frequent calls from two constituents and more recently a county commissioner who were aware of the complaints.
“Is it just too hard to enforce?” Redd asked Baker. “Or, is it just something we have decided as a city that we are just not going to force the residency issue?”
Without mentioning Garrett by name, Baker said he did not feel the meeting was the time or the place to discuss the issue in detail; however, he made time to divulge he had received two written complaints about the matter.
“Under the state ouster law, once I receive a single, written complaint from a citizen, my duty and legal obligation is to conduct an ouster investigation,” Baker said. “But for the fact the subject of this [complaint] is a sitting council member, then [he is] one of my 13 bosses that I have to answer to willingly.”
Due to the unique situation, Baker said he needed to turn the ouster requests over the district attorney.
He informed Redd, while a meeting was planned with the district attorney, he believed the investigation would eventually be turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.