Nashville Mayor Megan Barry admitted an affair with her longtime bodyguard Sgt Rob Forrest earlier this year. The admission, which had been forced by the discovery of the relationship by their respective partners, was an excruciating moment for the married rising-star in the Democratic Party. Nearly three weeks on, however, and the story is still in the headlines as the revelations continue to trickle out to the media. How long can Barry hold on?
The story so far…
As Nashville’s first woman mayor, Megan Barry has enjoyed much goodwill in the media and among voters. When she revealed that she and Rob Forrest had begun their affair in the Spring of 2016 (but not when it had ended) she appeared very embarrassed, but did not face much pressure to resign. As the head of Barry’s security detail, Forrest was someone she would naturally work closely with, and although the affair was plainly a lapse in judgement on the Mayor’s part, it was at least a very human one. The realization that taxpayers had been repeatedly funding trips away for the couple, including a trip to Greece for just the two of them, was disquieting but not fatal for Barry’s political career.
Now it appears Barry’s influence may have done more than provide the couple with time alone. Three days ago Nashville’s main newspaper, the Tenneseean, reported that Rob Forrest earned substantially more overtime than other bodyguards on Barry’s detail. In fact, the $173,843.13 Forrest earned between July 2015 and January 2017 is nearly $53,000 more than the other four bodyguards received combined.
Sgt Rob Forrest’s cushy little number
According to the Tennessean, Mayor Barry frequently travelled without a security detail before June 2016, when her affair with Forrest was underway. From this point the couple regularly travelled together, including ten times when Forrest was the only other state employee to accompany Barry. According to Barry, all travel was legitimate, although there were four days spread over three trips that were not strictly speaking necessary – including a day the couple would have been together in Greece.
Rob Forrest retired in January – effective the day of Barry’s public revelation of their affair. Because of the massive overtime figures he racked up in his final years, he is eligible for $80,302.56 a year in retirement pay – the figure is based on the last five years of salary and overtime.
It is clear that Forrest worked the bulk of the security shifts for protecting Barry from the outset of their affair. What is not clear is who arranged the overtime – as the head of the detail Forrest set the shift pattern. He may have upped his hours in order to get close to Barry in the first place.
Barry denies violating any laws or policies, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into the possible misuse of state funds.
The pressure mounts
Tomorrow on the south steps of Nashville Davidson County Courthouse a “Resign Now! Megan Barry” rally will be held at 5pm. Organized by a well-known conservative activist, Rick Williams.
“How’s it hurting the image of our city? Is it making corporations look elsewhere? Is it making them wonder what kind of people are leading this city?” Williams told local television station Newschannel 5.
The rally is unlikely to trigger a resignation from Barry, but it may be a sign of further pressure to come. Whereas many are willing to look past a personal indiscretion, once scandals develop financial scandals they become much more serious.
One line of defence Barry has already indicated might do more to annoy Nashville voters than it will help: Barry has claimed that Rob Forrest worked for the police and was not one of her subordinates. Even if this is technically true (and it is not obvious that it is as Forrest was an employee of the City she presides over) it seems unlikely anyone will find the affair and possible misuse of state funds any less serious.