Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Harber torpedo

Part two of Betty Bean's interview with Tyler Harber appeared in yesterday's Halls Shopper News, and as with last week's first part, I think this week's portion can be broken down with commentary on what we've read. I can also reveal the name of a person who I said was involved last week but I could not reveal their name.

This week we learn the depths to which the Ragsdale people are willing to sink to get their way.

One of the main reasons he felt that Ragsdale, as he put it, had emerged “extremely victorious” from the election season was because they had gotten rid of sitting County Commission chair Leo Cooper. A top Team Ragsdale priority had been to gain control of County Commission, and toward that end, they had turned their attention to Cooper, a retired principal and restaurant owner and multi-term commission chair. Cooper, an independent, stubborn man, had incurred the wrath of developers by opposing some big projects, and they were looking to run someone against him. But that’s not the biggest reason he had to go, Harber said.

“Cooper was a major influence on that commission. He was one of that old guard – along with Howard Pinkston, Frank Leuthold, Billy Tindell – that had a lot of power. We wanted to break that gang up so we could have a rubber stamp vote for our agenda.”

Now, to be fair, Tindell may have had partisan reasons for his opposition to Ragsdale, but "Team Ragsdale's" enemies' list was apparently a completely bi-partisan affair. If you weren't going to give Mike Ragsdale his way, you were marked for extinction. Sounds like the agenda wasn't conservative or liberal, but an agenda of power.

Stabbing people in the back and double-crossing them certainly wasn't beneath the Ragsdale machine if Harber is be believed.

The second name on the list was County Commission administrator Ray Hill.

In our eyes, he had a lot of power. Plus, he was supporting all the candidates we were against,” Harber said. “We saw him as a major stumbling block.”

It took awhile, but Commission voted to abolish Hill’s job the following year after he was accused of discriminating against two female office staffers. He now says he had no knowledge that the Ragsdale administration wanted him removed.

“I’ve always thought Mike Ragsdale was my friend,” Hill said.

Whether the reader believes this story of how Ray Hill was "gotten rid of" or not, one has to admit that it would make sense that if you want somebody dumped out of the picture without their really knowing what was going on, you use a conveniently presented reason (discrimination charges) as the excuse and make it appear that another person or body (i.e. the Commission) did the dirty work, and not you.

The head of Pre-Trial Release and Probation was let go early on. So was Edmund Bolt, director of the health department. Rumor was that Bolt was “not a team player.”

Today, he says he never heard that story.

“I was in Mike Ragsdale’s administration for six months and worked directly under Cynthia Finch. “I was called into his office one day and dismissed. The only reason given was that he did not like the direction the health department was going. There were a lot of internal politics and I wouldn’t want to be back there.”

Just what does "not a team player" mean in this context? I suspect that it means "not anyone's robot." I might agree with somebody's politics, and I might even vote for them, but that doesn't mean that when they say jump, I must say "how high." Bolt's words at the end about internal politics tell us that as the very least, Ragsdale was cleaning everyone out of Knox County Government who was opposed to him.

“Ragsdale was scared and jealous of the sheriff even before he became mayor,” Harber said, adding that the first opportunity to stick it to Hutchison came about after the News Sentinel did some stories examining Hutchison’s business ties with impoundment lot operator Randy Hinton, who held a county contract. The stories included questions about Hutchison’s mountain retreat and allegations that he was running a construction company in partnership with Hinton.

“When (the story) first came out in the paper, I didn’t have anything to do with it. But once it did come out, Ragsdale and Arms wanted to continue the media coverage, so they got me to write a number – I’m talking about dozens – of letters to the editor against Hutchison, and (other members of Team Ragsdale) would go and find people to sign them. And then we’d either create an e-mail address for them to use, or we’d print out a hard copy and get them to sign it.”

If there is any truth to this, the Party of the Donkey should wake up and smell the morning coffee. Why do I say that? In the recent Knox County Sheriff's campaign, we heard a lot about so-called "politics" in the Sheriff's office. All of that started with these letters to the editor. If what Harber says has any truth at all to it, the whole "Hutchison is a politico and not a Sheriff" media job started with the Ragsdale/Arms team.

I have to hand it to Ragsdale, because if the man is anything, he is a master politician. Starting a propaganda blitz against a political opponent inside your own party and then getting the other party to pick up on that and use the things in that propaganda blitz as the reason to try and topple your opponent is no easy task. If Mike Ragsdale managed to do this, he may be a sly and untrustworthy wolf, but he is brilliant.

Up to this point in Part II of the Harber interview, everything is "plausibly deniable," and the Ragsdale machine can claim none of it happened quite that way seven ways to Sunday. The next part, however, simply made me want to vomit, and exposes that Mike Ragsdale is more than just a smooth but heartless political operator. If these next allegations have teeth, Mike Ragsdale is a hateful man.

Other “enemies” included radio talk show hosts Lloyd Daugherty and Kelvin Moxley.

“They were beating us up pretty bad over the wheel tax, and we heard a rumor that they were on TennCare, so I was told to go over to the health department and find out.”

Harber said he subsequently picked up a sealed envelope at the health department.

“I took the envelope to Mike, and Mike and I never opened it because I knew most certainly that had to be illegal. But it was their plan that if one or both had TennCare, they were going to get some media play out of it and try to destroy their credibility. I never heard any more about it, and I never asked,” Harber said.

I am going to look on the bright side and hope and pray that Ragsdale had the simple human decency not to open that envelope. I am going to be positive and believe that because we did not hear anything about it in the press. What Lloyd Daugherty, a man who I admire a great deal-even from a distance-said next hit the nail on the head:

“I sure hope this is not true. I consider Mike Ragsdale a political adversary, not an enemy.

"But there really is this sense out here that you better watch out if you buck these people,” he said. “At one time, I couldn’t work for a couple of years – I was in intensive care for nearly a month – and was wiped out financially a couple of times. Nine years ago, I had my left leg amputated.

“Personal attacks against Kelvin and me are one thing, but this was a clear attempt to find information to intimidate a very small segment of the media because we were asking questions and not toeing the establishment line. If that doesn’t reek of Watergate, I don’t know what does.”

As a person with a disability, I find these kinds of tactics sick beyond all telling and any man who would allow this sort of character assassination of what amounts to a media critic under their nose and in their administration is a person who is entirely unfit to hold the public trust. Using what are essentially medical records as a means to try and silence your opponents-or even threatening to do such a thing-is more than a low blow. More than just illegal, it is unethical and morally wrong.

I don't have tons of time to go into Ragsdale's grudge against Sen. Jamie Woodson (my now-former State Senator) over the Coster Shop landfill contamination issue in South Knox, but Harber claims that he went to work for Woodson's (then known by her former name Jamie Hagood) Primary opponent Billy Stokes at Ragsdale's behest because Ragsdale was "furious" with Jamie Woodson.

The website caswalker.com was, according to Harber, used as a way to guage anti-Ragsdale sentiment and used to single out Ragsdale opponents who worked in county government. Candidate Stokes vehemently denies his campaign had any involvement in the caswalker.com scheme.

“I hated that Web site and am really embarrassed that I defended Tyler and Adam when they lied to my face about their involvement. I think all that garbage about Jamie on there hurt me by implication and a lot of people thought it was generated by me solely because it was so nasty toward her.”

I believe Stokes is being truthful when he says the site made him feel offended and embarrassed. I believe him when he says he had nothing to do with caswalker.com, but that doesn't mean Ragsdale/Arms weren't at least letting the business go on-and that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Harber says he did mislead Stokes and was really doing what he did because he was working for Mike Ragsdale.

“I had to lie to him. What good would it have done to tell him about it at that point (deep into the campaign)? I was working in his campaign, but my real employer was Mike Ragsdale, and it would have been very detrimental to both of them to admit such a thing – and she would have just beaten us even worse than she did.”

Who is the "Adam" Stokes spoke of? I can now reveal that this person was none other than blogger extraordinaire Adam Groves, one of Tennessee's most influential bloggers, and apparently the technical tour de force behind CasWalker and Harber's other schemes for the Ragsdale machine. He was the blogger I spoke of last Monday when I said that a well-known political blogger was involved. Groves is the author of Tennessee Politics, which may be our State's most widely-read political blog. I can't speak with certainty, but I believe that Groves is the kind of person who would co-operate with any serious investigation.

One thing that I don't buy from the story is that Ragsdale favors a consolidated Metro government because that would somehow benefit him-it would not. It would favor the City of Knoxville because the city has more votes and would favor Bill Haslam as Mayor of Knoxville to be the ultimate power broker. He may favor such a government to gain Haslam favor, however.

If you thought this week was juicy, the third part next week should blow us all away.


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