Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 7, 2013

City election flap continues

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — Even though the 2012 Crossville City Council election concluded months ago, it appears the election will not fade quietly into history.

While questions about the election have not been discussed in a city council meeting since the election concluded, there have been communications behind the scenes that make strong accusations and raise questions about the investigation into incidents that took place during the campaign.

In addition to letters from Councilman Pete Souza and Mayor J.H. Graham III, councilman Jesse Kerley provided a statement on the controversy.

Rumors have swirled around the reports of a search warrant executed at then-candidate Jesse Kerley's residence just before the election.

Kerley's home was searched five days prior to the election, though a copy of that search warrant has not yet been made public.

In his statement to the Chronicle, Kerley said, "It appears my political rivals unfortunately stooped so low as to bring a political campaign once again before city business and an unwarranted raid on my house five days before election day. Mayor Graham states in his reply, which strongly appears he did not write, that a crime had been committed, but damages to the city of Crossville had never been established.

"In no way have I ever caused damages to the City of Crossville and never will. Unfortunately, damages suffered at my house by the unwarranted raid were far more severe. I believe the raid and misuse of law agencies caused my unborn baby to be miscarried three days later. I hope these individuals involved have lost as much sleep over this cruel act as I have by seeing the disappointment in Brianna's [Moore, Kerley's fiancée] face when the doctor informed her that our baby was dead.

"Through these trying times, I will stay strong and continue to be an effective voice for the citizens of Crossville like I promised.”

The 2012 city election began with a batch of computer generated so-called political “robo-calls” criticizing then-councilman Boyd Wyatt made Aug. 16, early in the campaign, and appeared on caller IDs to have come from the telephone number of the Crossville City Hall. The calls did not really come from city hall but, instead, computer phone equipment was apparently programed to “spoof” the number of city hall so it would show up on the call recipients caller IDs.

After the calls first came to the city's attention, the council discussed the matter at a called meeting Aug. 23. At that meeting, city attorney Ken Chadwell explained he had talked to the state and local attorneys general and it appeared spoofing of the city's phone number could fall under statues of identity theft and identity fraud. Chadwell stressed that neither man said a crime had definitely been committed, but an investigation could help determine if that were the case.

After a discussion of ways the city could report the matter to proper authorities, the council voted to direct the city manager to write a letter requesting District Attorney General Randy York investigate the matter. That investigation got under way as the campaign continued.

About a month after he was sworn in, a letter dated Dec. 28, 2012, from new city Councilman Pete Souza addressed to York appears to reveal where that investigation led. Souza's letter was made as a “formal complaint against former councilman Boyd Wyatt and J.H. Graham, Mayor.” The letter goes on to accuse the two men of “zealously using the position of their office to pursue a political rival to affect the outcome of the election.”

Souza's letter states, “It is my opinion that no reasonable person would have acted with such zeal solely based on the interests of the City of Crossville.”

An adversarial relationship between councilman Jesse Kerley and Mayor J. H. Graham and Boyd Wyatt is recounted in the letter as well as reporting that the city police department's chief investigator spent time looking into the matter.

Souza's letter confirms that a search warrant was executed at Kerley's residence and his letter goes on to say, “rumors abounded all over town that Kerley was arrested for drugs.” Souza asks, “How did that happen?”

Souza concludes saying, “Whether Mr. Kerley did or did not do the phone surveys is not my point. My point is Boyd Wyatt and Mayor Graham did exert pressure on the investigation and did use this to gain publicity to influence voting."

Souza also sent a copy of his letter of complaint to city's ethics file and the Cumberland County Election Commission.

Two weeks after Souza's letter, a letter over Graham's signature in response was addressed to the city council with a copy also sent to the district attorney general.

Part of Graham's letter read, “In his letter, Mr. Souza suggests that the action of the council was directed at Councilman Jesse Kerley and resulted in a search warrant being carried out at Councilman Kerley's house and that drugs were involved. Further, he suggested that the mayor and one former councilman wrongfully used the influence and power of their respective offices to pursue a political rival. However, the other three councilman voting in favor of the motion did not do anything wrong.”

Graham's letter continues, “Any response to such charges needs to be clear on the fact that no one was ever mentioned as a possible target or suspect in regard to the crime being reported, and drugs were never discussed or mentioned.

"To suggest that Councilman Kerley was a target of the investigation is, at best, an unfortunate misunderstanding, and in my opinion a disservice to the city of Crossville, the district attorney, and to Councilman Kerley in connection with the district attorney's investigation.”

Graham's letter discourages anyone from trying to interfere with or influence the nature and scope of the district attorney's actions, adding, “A suggestion that our current district attorney would use his office to influence a political outcome is an insult to him and the district he serves.”

“The election of November 2012 is over.” Graham's letter continues, “Jesse Kerley and Pete Souza were duly elected.”

Graham concludes, “I do not believe that the mayor and the city council should apologize or be criticized for voting to report a crime against the city to the local district attorney's office.”

The final results of the investigation have not yet come to light and it is unknown at this time if any charges will be filed in the matter.