County Mayor Stephen Chambers responded publicly Tuesday to an ethics complaint filed against him by 11 members of the County Commission.

Chambers issued a statement to The Vidette in which he denied any wrongdoing and stated that the complaint was “an attempt to bully and coerce me.”

At the Sept. 27 County Commission meeting, a letter was read into the minutes that was signed by 11 of the 20 commissioners. That letter alleged that Chambers threatened legal action against the Commission after a possible violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and that some members changed their votes on a proposed Water Department building because of those threats. The letter asked County Attorney Branden Bellar to officially open an ethics investigation into the mayor.

At a called Commission meeting in July, audio and video records show that Chambers did mention the possibility of legal action by the Water Board against the Commission as a result of discussions between members that occurred prior to a separate meeting.

In his statement, Chambers said his actions were simply an attempt to ensure “open and legal deliberations” by county government. His statement reads:

“When I asked the citizens of Trousdale County to allow me to serve as their Mayor, I said that decisions of their government would not be made in secret behind closed doors and that the citizens would have a voice in public meetings and in the decision-making process of their government. To follow through, I have zealously and actively, through the audio and/or video streaming and recording of government meetings, tried to ensure that all citizens of Trousdale County have access to the decision-making process of their elected officials. In fact, when I took office, I purchased, with my own funds, equipment necessary to provide the citizens of Trousdale County access to all meetings. In doing so, I have worked hard to make sure our county complies with the Open Meetings law that applies to county governments.

When I discovered that some County Commissioners may have violated the Open Meetings law, I publicly shared my concern with the Commissioners. I advised them of the need to openly deliberate any decision before voting on it. In fact, after I disclosed my concern to the Commissioners, they conducted a proper deliberation and vote in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

As a result of my insistence that the law be followed, and that the citizens of this county have a right to open and legal deliberations on matters that affect them, some of the commissioners have chosen to retaliate against me by filing a bogus, false, and unfounded complaint concerning my actions. Specifically, they have asked the County Attorney to investigate my actions because I insisted that they comply with the Open Meetings law. I absolutely and completely deny that I have engaged in any action that is a violation of my duties as a public servant to the people of Trousdale County. It is obvious their demand for an investigation and their false accusations are an attempt to bully and coerce me to not protect the Constitutional Rights of all Trousdale Countians.

What I have done is taken action to protect the rights of the citizens of Trousdale County and I will do it again and again if necessary. I have, by letter, advised the County Attorney that I will be fully cooperative with his investigation and stand ready to defend myself and the citizens of Trousdale County from having decisions made by just a few people meeting in a back room.”

Bellar told The Vidette that his investigation is ongoing and has no deadline for completion. Once finished, he will file a complete report with the Commission and offer his legal opinion as to whether any violation may have occurred. Any further action would depend on what the final report states.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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