Mike Ragsdale: Crook, fraud, and political sham?Part one of the Tyler Harber story officially broke in yesterday's Halls Shopper News. Here are a few juicy tidbits from the story and my comments based on what I know about all of this:
The day after the Aug. 3 county general election, an e-mail titled "Ragsdale missing me now" appeared in various local in-boxes and on Web sites. It listed the defeats suffered by candidates supported by county Mayor Mike Ragsdale and contrasted this string of losses with wins rung up when 24-year-old political operative Tyler Harber worked for Ragsdale. Soon, message boards and courthouse hallways were buzzing with conversation about Harber, who disappeared from the scene 17 months ago under a cloud of scandal that included a police chase, a missing computer and allegations of computer hacking - none of which produced any charges against him.
This is quite true-Harber has never been charged, but the allegations he is making could bring charges against him, and potentially others.
One of Harber's de facto duties was to keep his hands on the political campaigns of Ragsdale yes-men and make sure that those opposed to Ragsdale were taken down.
"He took me to his office and told me, 'The first day I was elected to Commission, I started working on being elected county executive. Now, the first day I am county executive, I'm going to work on being governor. I want you to help me be governor.' "
Read that again. At the time, Harber was 19 years old and was cutting his teeth on politics. I was 19, in college, and cutting my teeth on politics once-not all that long ago. I was a young idealist and I wanted to change the world. If someone with power, like a Ragsdale-type, had come to me and said "I want you to help me be governor," I would have eaten that up. My guess is that Tyler Harber did just that. This confirms what several of us have known for some time. Mike Ragsdale had plans for Nashville, and Knox County was a trainstop along the way for him. Perhaps those train tickets have just been cancelled.
Harber went on the county payroll as an employee of Information Technology Services, headed by Dick Moran. "But, most of my time, I spent with Mike," he said. "I would pick the man up from his house. I would be with him all day long, and I would drop him off at the end of the day. I was his body man. We would talk politics, policy and everything else in between. It sort of ‘married’ me to him."
You really can't blame Harber here. He was living the life that most of us who have ever been political activists or involved in the arena dream of-especially at that young age. He was close to a power circle and was part of the action. In his mind, I am sure he believed he was making a difference for the better.
"After I moved over to probation, the cover story was that I'm there to make sure the electronic monitoring (ankle bracelets) were working. That was my cover story. I had zero caseload and never saw a single probationer. I had no obligation or task relative to IT or Pretrial Release and Probation, although I did help Todd and Dick with some things, when they asked. "I even learned how to put on and operate an electronic tracking device in case a journalist ever asked me to do so (they never did). When there'd be a TV story about electronic tracking, I made sure I was there. … Eventually, I was moved to an office on the 6th floor of the Andrew Johnson with Community TV, where there were not so many eyes."
So the whole thing was really a cover-Tyler had a job, but it wasn't doing what the official documents said he was doing. What was Tyler's job?
Perhaps emboldened by the docile reaction to the $6 fee hike, Ragsdale proposed an additional $30 wheel tax. Once again, the commissioners gave him what he wanted, but this time with a little opposition - it passed 16-3. Rumors swirled that Ragsdale swore to take revenge on Mark Cawood, Paul Pinkston and Mike McMillan, the three commissioners who voted against the tax.
A big part of Tyler's job was to dig up dirt on Commissioners who were representing the people of their districts as opposed to the interests and political aspirations of Mike Ragsdale, and put plants in the mostly conservative Republican anti-Ragsdale anti-tax groups.
"When we started pushing our allies to vote for the property tax, we put them in jeopardy, and that is something you never want to do. Everything was going good up until then, but we got a whole lot more paranoid and a whole lot more power hungry, and got involved in a whole lot of things we shouldn't have gotten involved in," Harber said. "We raised a lot of money under the table and behind closed doors for our anti-wheel tax referendum campaigns. "No one is pro-tax. That's where this anti-Ragsdale sentiment came from. It's the way we forced the issue that caused the opposition. "I prepared an opposition report and the idea was floated that we put some 'plants' into the referendum organization to get information as to how many signatures they were getting. Our information was dead-on." This assessment was validated by none other than Ragsdale's chief of staff, Mike Arms. In a March 20, 2005, News Sentinel story by Scott Barker, Arms said, "Lo and behold, when it was all said and done, (Tyler) was pretty close. He knew how many had signed it at the Halls Wal-Mart.”Harber says his 'plants' (whom he would not identify) were able to make at least 2,000 signatures go away. "We decided to subvert, steal and destroy as many petitions as we could get our hands on. We were trading real petitions for fake petitions so they would think they had more names than they actually had."
Ladies and gentlemen, stealing election petitons and/or tampering with them is a crime akin to vote-tampering, it is a felony that can garner prison time. In admitting to this, Mr. Harber is opening himself up for said prison time. He didn't have to do this in the least, but I suspect he is interested in justice, and that he will likely talk to authorities who may now want to know what Mike Ragsdale knew about these activities. In the weeks ahead as this story continues to be published in parts in the HSN, Harber will tell more about hacking computers to dig dirt on opponents of Ragsdale, his wheel-tax, and his political aspirations.
One interesting note from the story:
One of Cawood's constituents, Greg "Lumpy" Lambert, showed up the day of the final wheel tax vote wearing a giant screw through his body. Come Sept. 1, the Powell used car dealer will be known as commissioner Lumpy Lambert and will join Cawood in representing District 6. Considering that Cawood fended off a general election challenge from county employee Chuck James, a Ragsdale-backed candidate who had supported the wheel tax, and Lambert beat Ragsdale-blessed opponents in both the primary and the general elections, these two seatmates probably won't be harboring any warm fuzzy feelings toward Mayor Mike.
Long Live Lumpy. I sincerely hope that Lambert does exactly as I expect he will do and fights Ragsdale every step of the way to bring justice to the people who were sold a bill of goods on the wheel tax. Democrats should pay close attention to this. Those of you who are Democrats (especially in East Tennessee) know that I am a Republican and my politics are different than yours, usually quite radically. Note, however, that the Democratic Party is so weak in Knox County that Ragsdale and his minions have been known to clandestinely back Democrats in order to prevent anti-Ragsdale people from being elected. There are some who believe that the whole Randy Tyree for Sheriff campaign was a set-up to try and bring down Sheriff Tim Hutchison, who is an opponent of Ragsdale-and of course, Democrats wouldn't know the wiser, they would simply be happy to have a candidate.
I'm not saying that I believe that (or that I don't), but I have heard the idea floated in more than one place.
It is also worth noting that some of the anti-Ragsdale candidates would be less likely to support the sham industrial park deal for East Knox County that a whole lot of people in that heavily Republican part of the world oppose. Hence, do not be surprised to see the business rammed through before Lumpy and the Gang are sworn in September 1st.
One of the things Harber alleges is that the pro-Ragsdale candidates did badly in the Primaries and elections because in losing Harber, Ragsdale lost his dirt-digging abilities. Lumpy Lambert was one of those anti-Ragsdale candidates who won. Another candidate that the Ragsdale machine tried to defeat was State Represenative Stacey Campfield, and they did so by putting up Gary Drinnen, who is a long-time GOP hack who had Ragsdale's blessing and who is apparently quite familiar with Tyler Harber. Now that Drinnen got his arse kicked, don't be surprised if the Ragsdale people now try to back Schree Pettigrew in a secret or underhanded sort of way in order to try and oust Campfield.