Extraordinary admission rocks the popular Nashville mayor’s first term.
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Nashville Mayor Megan Barry addresses the media on news of her affair
Mayor Megan Barry said Wednesday she had an extramarital affair with the police officer in charge of her security detail, an extraordinary admission that rocks the popular Nashville mayor’s first term.
Barry, in an interview with The Tennessean on Wednesday afternoon, apologized “for the harm I’ve done to the people I love and the people who counted on me” but said she won’t be resigning.
She confirmed the affair with Metro police Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., which began in the spring or summer of 2016, just months after she entered office the previous fall. Forrest submitted his retirement papers Jan. 17. His final day was Wednesday.
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“We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn’t have done it,” Barry, a Democrat, said, looking down as she spoke softly and slowly. “He was part of my security detail, and as part of that responsibility, I should have gone to the (police) chief, and I should have said what was going on, and that was a mistake.
“People that we admire can also be flawed humans, and I’m flawed, and I’m incredibly sad and sorry for the disappointment that I will see in those little girls’ faces. But, what I hope they can also see is that people make mistakes, and you move on from those.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry talks to Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., the head of her security detail, on March 9, 2017. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)
Barry and Forrest are both married. Barry said the relationship was discovered during conversations between their spouses and private discussions.
Forrest, 58, was a regular presence with the mayor during public events, travel and even trips abroad. According to public records obtained by The Tennessean, thousands of taxpayer dollars covered Forrest’s travel with the mayor on city business.
While several of the trips included other members of the mayor’s office, nine of the trips were with only Barry and Forrest, including a trip to Greece in September.
Barry told her staff about the affair Wednesday afternoon and then held a 16-minute early evening news conference, where several of the mayor’s aides and a handful of council members watched. Barry addressed the media standing on a stage alone without her husband, Bruce Barry, in the room.
Barry, 54, said she is no longer seeing Forrest, but during the news conference declined to say when the relationship ended.
“Yes, it’s over. Yes, it’s over,” Barry said, when asked repeatedly when the affair ended.
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During the interview, Barry hesitated when asked whether she plans to resign, but said she will not, despite rumors swirling Wednesday that she might step down. She also said she won’t be taking a leave of absence and would be in the mayor’s office Thursday.
She said she doesn’t believe the relationship violated any Metro ethics laws or guidelines.
“This is a bad day, and there’s going to be more bad days, but this is not my worst day,” Barry said. “And I know the difference between a mistake — which is what I made and I fully own — and a tragedy. And this is not a tragedy. And I want to regain the trust of Nashvillians. And I will continue to serve.”
Her decision to go public came after inquiries this week from The Tennessean following the retirement of Forrest, the head of security for the last three Nashville mayors.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry remembers her son, Max, during a press conference marking her first day back to work after his death. Max Barry died of an overdose in Colorado on July 29.
Ayrika Whitney/USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
The scandal presents a monumental test both politically and personally for the mayor, who lost her only son in July to a drug overdose. Voters elected Barry as the city’s first female mayor in 2015, and she has enjoyed approval ratings above 70 percent, bolstered by high marks from the city’s Democrats.
“I know that God’s going to forgive me, but the citizens of Nashville don’t have to,” Barry said. “My hope is that I can earn their forgiveness, and I can earn back their trust, and we can do the great work for this city that Nashville deserves.”
In a statement issued through his attorney David Raybin, Forrest said he regrets his relationship with the mayor and asked for privacy.
“I deeply regret that my professional relationship with Mayor Barry turned into a personal one,” Forrest said. “This has caused great pain for my wife, my family, friends and colleagues. At no time did I ever violate my oath as a police officer or engage in actions that would abuse the public trust.”
Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said Chief Steve Anderson was unaware of the relationship between Barry and Forrest until Tuesday.
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On Monday, a lawyer for Forrest’s wife sent a letter to Metro police’s Specialized Investigations Division asking that the department preserve the contents of Forrest’s cellphone, saying it “may contain information that is important in my representation” of Forrest’s wife.
Metro police did not immediately respond to a question about whether they have agreed to the request.
Full event of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry addressing the media
In a letter to a supervisor, Forrest, a 31-year veteran of the department, gave a two-week notice of his departure on Jan. 17. He led a four-person team in charge of keeping the mayor safe and transporting her to various functions.
“I have had an outstanding career and have enjoyed coming to work each day,” Forrest said in the letter. “I plan to make the transition as soon as possible.”
Forrest offered no other explanation. In 2000, he signed a law enforcement code of ethics stating, “I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency.”
Barry’s husband, Bruce Barry, is a professor at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management. The mayor declined to go into detail about her relationship with her husband, but said they are not separating. She asked for privacy on that matter.
Mayor Megan Barry talks with Dr. Bill Fox of Knoxville at Lipscomb University in Nashville on Aug. 16, 2017. Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr. is pictured behind Barry. (Photo: Lacy Atkins / The Tennessean)
The relationship is the first extramarital affair in the Nashville mayor’s office that has gone public since former Mayor Bill Boner’s public romances in the 1990s with a 34-year-old country singer and a former bodyguard, who was also a Metro police officer.
Barry’s been the most visible mayor in Nashville history, and has gained national attention as a rising star in Democratic ranks. At times, she’s taken on almost celebrity status, rubbing shoulders with the city’s musicians and athletes and appearing at concerts and Predators playoff games.
Forrest, who has been married for at least 28 years, frequently provided security for for the mayor on out-of-town trips for conferences and other city business.
Last year Forrest traveled with Barry overseas to Paris and Athens. He also accompanied her on trips to cities across the U.S., including to Washington, D.C.; New York; Denver; Oakland, Calif.; Salt Lake City; and Kansas City in the last 10 months alone.
The trip to Greece took place Sept. 12-18. It was for the Athens Democracy Forum as part of Nashville’s involvement in the 100 Resilient Cities network led by the Rockefeller Foundation.
According to travel records obtained by The Tennessean, the bill for Forrest’s trips between January 2017 and October 2017 was $21,712. Barry’s travel expenses between Jan. 1, 2017, and this year totaled $11,382.
Barry’s travel expenses are less because on some trips, foundations or organizations hosting the conferences cover the travel costs.
Barry said that Anderson told her that she is “always the mayor and you should be secured appropriately.”
Each of the trips where Forrest provided security for her were business related, she said.
Barry rejected any suggestion that taxpayer money was used to advance her affair. But she never flatly denied that she engaged in the relationship during those trips.
“Those trips were all business related, and those trips he traveled with me as my detail, which is standard policy with the police department to have detail with me wherever I am,” Barry said.
“It was all city business, and the police policy for detail and my busy schedule are what you’re seeing reflecting in those trips,” she said.
Asked whether Forrest’s presence was necessary on the trips, Barry said the police department recommended it.
In addition to his more than $84,500 annual salary, Forrest earned more than $50,000 in overtime pay during 2017, according to data obtained by The Tennessean.
An analysis shows the officer earned more than $4,121 in overtime working on trips attended by Forrest and Barry. Forrest earned an additional $3,278 in overtime working on trips attended by himself, Barry and other members of the mayor’s office.
Barry, in The Tennessean interview, referred to Forrest as “someone who works in Metro” and not a subordinate. Under the Metro government structure, the police chief is hired and fired by the mayor.
But Metro Councilman John Cooper, a frequent critic of the Barry administration, said “there’s no way around the common-sense fact he clearly worked for the mayor.”
“That kind of relationship is a problem anywhere in Metro government, especially if taxpayer funds were used for their personal travel,” Cooper said.
Metro Councilman Steve Glover, another Barry critic, who has known Barry for over 10 years, said he wasn’t going to comment on her personal life. But Glover said the council could look into the travel expenses for Barry and Forrest if necessary.
“If the Metro Budget and Finance Committee needs to look into this, we can look into it and find out if any money was spent properly or improperly,” Glover said.
Metro Councilman Jeremy Elrod agreed, saying he’s “shocked like most people are,” but called it a personal matter.
Barry, one of Tennessee’s most prominent Democrats and a favorite of liberals, overcame a significant fundraising disadvantage to win the 2015 mayoral election, defeating six opponents and then David Fox in a runoff.
The revelation of the relationship could have major ramifications on Barry’s push for a $5.4 billion mass transit project, which she wants voter approval on through a May 1 referendum. The transit referendum, which has proved contentious, is the most significant challenge politically that Barry has faced during her 2½ years in office.
Barry said she was elected on transit and other issues such as affordable housing and that she doesn’t see her work on the transit project stopping.
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Barry earlier this month retreated from two other major controversial undertakings: a proposal to end inpatient care at Nashville General Hospital and a mixed-use plan called Cloud Hill that her administration supported for the Greer Stadium site.
As an at-large Metro councilwoman from 2007 to 2015, Barry carved out a reputation for being pro-business but progressive on social issues — a formula that she’s brought into the mayor’s office.
Professionally, Barry worked as an ethics and compliance officer at Premier Ethics and Compliance.
Last year she was recognized with the ATHENA National Leadership Award, a distinction honoring women in leadership positions previously given to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, astronaut Sally Ride and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Barry also became a national voice in the country’s opioid crisis last year after the death of her 22-year-old son, Max, who died from a mix of drugs that included opioids.
After Barry’s son died, it was Forrest who came to her home at 3 a.m. to break the news.
Forrest has supervised the security for mayors dating to Bill Purcell, who was elected in 1999. According to his bio, Forrest also has been the supervisor of the hate crime investigations unit, Crime Stoppers and security for visiting dignitaries.
After her first 100 days in office, Barry wrote a commendation for Forrest, calling him a “consummate professional in his dealings with me and my staff.”
“From the first day he collected me to take me to the swearing in to the many events and functions I have participated in since, his deep knowledge of Nashville has been essential to my overall success,” Barry wrote in her Jan. 15, 2016, letter to Forrest’s supervisor.
Mayor Megan Barry, facing center, hugs Tom Ward of the Oasis Center during a vigil for shooting victims at the Music City Central bus station April 26, 2016. A shooting at the station injured four teenagers. Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr. stands in the background. (Photo: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean)
Anita Wadhwani contributed to this report.
Reach Joey Garrison at email@example.com or 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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