Harbergate: The Chairmen's AffairThe latest, last, and juiciest part of the Tyler Harber story is up on the Halls Shopper News, it is so big that I had traffic over it before I made this post and before I even saw the story myself. In the name of fairness to all involved, I am going to try and give more than one view, but I will admit to the reader that I have as much faith in Mike Ragsdale as I do in the Prophet Muhammed (read: I have none whatsoever).
The press account of the Harber badge-flashing incident (both sides agree that he was drinking on the Cumberland Avenue strip):
Harber was accused of flashing a badge and handing her a business card on the back of which was scrawled a threat to sic the health department on her employer. The card identified him as a “special assistant” to the county mayor. Copper Cellar employees handed the card over to internal affairs investigators from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Harber got some bad press, a three-day suspension and a reputation as a bully out of the deal.
His version of these events is different:
“In the first place, the probation badge was a wallet itself, and I carried it as a wallet. She saw my badge when I got it out to pay the bill. I gave her one of my county business cards and asked her to have her manager call me. I was pretty hot about the whole situation. Did I write on the card? No. I never saw the card after that, and I was, like, ‘Bring it. I’ll take a handwriting sample.’ I did not leave my card so I could shut the place down.
“We left immediately after paying and I never threatened to close them down. We weren’t drunk, we were just loud. We weren’t the only ones in the place enjoying happy hour.”
I'll be straight here-this is the one part of the story I have trouble with, largely because I was a politically active 20-something not all that long ago. I've been there and done that. I remember when I went to school in Ohio and was heavily involved in College Republicans and Young Republicans. I might as well admit that I had my fill of imbibement a few times during those years, and was intoxicated in public on a couple of occasions (I am telling loyal readers this because those who are opposed to me will find out soon enough, and I am all about honesty, because no one can use something against you if you admit to it beforehand). It was embarrassing enough that only close friends who were there and can make a good joke of it know all that happened, but too much alcohol can make you behave either like a crackpot or a jackass. Thankfully, I never made the kind of scene Harber is accused of making, and never got into any trouble at all, but I did make a fool of myself. If I were overly concerned with self-image, I might not fess-up to acting a fool when I had too many either, Tyler. What I do buy into is what allegedly happened the next day-this I think Harber is being truthful about.
When word of the Copper Cellar incident reached the sixth floor of the City County Building, Harber got called into the mayor’s office to do some explaining.
“Mike Arms sat me down. Ragsdale was out of town. Arms said ‘Let’s just eat crow and make it go away,’ and I did. I turned in my probation badge and my card and took three days off – but I wasn’t guilty. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
So a County employee shows his Probation badge while allegedly making an ass of himself in public and the reaction is "let's make this go away." Harber may be telling a half-truth in this instance, but some forget that "half-truth" means that there is some truth there that needs gotten to.
The next part of the story is the part that prompted so much traffic to my e-mail inbox yesterday. It is the election (or as Harber says, the selection) of Brian Hornback as Knox County Republican Chairman.
The next race that commanded Harber’s attention was much smaller in scope – Brian Hornback, a recently defeated school board member, became the Ragsdale-approved candidate to chair the Knox County GOP. Team Ragsdale had been having trouble with the incumbent chair, Chad Tindell, because Tindell was refusing to hand over the extensive mailing lists that party volunteers had compiled during the presidential campaign.
“We had supported Chad Tindell,” Harber said. “We sent out his letters to the executive committee, we got his stickers and his stationery. The deal was, we support him for chairman, he helps us out when he can, and we support his judgeship.
“On occasion, he, Ragsdale, Arms and I would discuss a judicial race. We never had problems with him until we got close to opening the Bush /Cheney office. We wanted to put some people in, and he was blocking it. We were co-chairing the campaign with Haslam, so any kind of list generated goes to the (chairs), who are usually two elected officials.
“That’s the spoils of war, and he flat-out refused to give it to us. Ragsdale was mad. Chad’s first excuse was that Ragsdale wasn’t entitled to it; the second excuse was that I would just try to sell it. Ragsdale charged me with getting that list. He told me ‘This is going to be essential to us to run our re-election.’
So former Chairman Tindell refused to hand over the list to Ragsdale/Haslam because he feared Harber would try and sell the list and he probably knew that Mike Ragsdale had motives with the list that went well beyond the Committee to Re-Elect the President (historical pun very much intended). Ragsdale wanted to use the list for his own ends, and Harber says that Ragsdale's reaction involved installing one of his supporters as County Chairman.
“There was only one way to get those lists away from Chad – we didn’t oust him, but we sort of went in sideways. We ran Hornback, but I tried to stay as far in the background as possible.
“We really set it up so he got elected unanimously. We heard through the grapevine that Chad was going to try to keep his office people in, and we felt that, as with any new administration, new people come in. We helped Brian get together a list of people who would be loyal to Brian and Ragsdale. As soon as he gets elected, he announces the staff changes and thanks me and Adam Groves (Harber’s partner in the consulting firm).
Machines work in this way and it is not uncommon for high-profile officialdom to install their own people in partisan positions in order to insure their hold on power. This is how Richard J. Daley stayed in power for so long in Chicago in spite of the fact that most of his opposition came from inside the Democratic Party. This same method is not immune from use by Republicans either, as the use of political dependency is how Charles P. Taft gained power in Cincinnati and how the Taft Family kept power in the Queen City and controlled (and still controls) the State Party in Ohio for many years. This political dependency has a price for morally superior candidates who are Republicans-they lose because of the machine. In Ohio, the baggage of the Taft Machine will cost Ken Blackwell his long-awaited election as Governor, even though he has fought the Tafts for most of his career. Somewhat similarly, the Ragsdale Machine of Knox County, Tennessee was too powerful for the "Little Engine" Steve Hall to overcome, and the squeaky-clean Hall couldn't be given a chance, because Mr. Wheel Tax just had to be Governor, and all of "his people" have to be in place so his Machine can run effectively. I've lived in cities that have had Machines, so I know the way that they work all too well and I know what Machine politics look like.
I'd like to believe that Brian Hornback, who I consider a friend, is not dependent for office on Mike Ragsdale. However, I should point out that it was my observation during the recent Knox County Mayoral Primary that Brian's support for Mike Ragsdale was not very well-hidden. Of course as a Republican Primary voter, Brian is entitled to support who he likes, but call me wierd-if I'm county Chairman, I am staying far away from contested primaries and issues where fellow Republicans are at odds, as taking sides in intra-party debates makes it appear as though a person is a tool of one side or the other, whether that is actually the case or not.
To be fair to the good Chairman, he had a response to some of the allegations regarding his candidacy for Chairman and the list. He told The World exclusively:
I find it interesting in Part III that Bean reports alot about me, but she NEVER contacted me (email, phone message at home or the KnoxGOP office) about the story or comments about what was said.
Bean should definately have tried to contact all the players in this story, and especially Hornback since Harber made some specific claims about Hornback in the HSN.
In my campaign for Chairman. I paid (personal funds) for my stickers that were used at the Lincoln Day Dinner. I called every precinct chairman and key player and personally asked for their support. I campaigned the old fashioned way. I had the support of EVERY elected official in Knox County, including the Sheriff and the Mayor.
That Hornback had Ragsdale's support seems to be quite obvious. Tyler Harber's story seems to be that Brian was Ragsdale's man for Chairman. I cannot comment as to whether he had Sheriff Hutchison's support, but I believe him when he says that he did.
Chad Tindell did not assist my campaign in any way. He did attempt to recruit any living being to run against me.
So what was Tindell's beef? Was it simply "I don't like Brian Hornback," was it "Hornback is a threat to Tindell," or was it the healthy fear and dislike of the Ragsdale Machine that many good Republicans and conservatives have developed? Well, I don't know. I haven't spoken to Mr. Tindell about this, nor has he made any attempt to contact The World regarding the Harber story. About the List, Hornback says:
With regards to the list. The Executive Committee and I within one week gave the list to EVERY Republican official. During the Mayoral race I gave it to Steve Hall twice.
Hornback goes on to say "Bean has a bias against me and it shows."
That may be. To tell you the truth, I do not know if Betty Bean is an anti-Ragsdale Republican (like me, Steve Hall, Stacey Campfield, Sheriff Tim Hutchison, and many others), a liberal Democrat, or an independent. My own bias against Mike Ragsdale is obvious here, and now that I don't live in Knox County anymore, I feel far more free to bring out the heavy cannons to fight Ragsdaleism to make sure that the poison to conservatism that is Wheel Tax Mikey spreads no further than Main Street in Knoxville. In that vein, Brian has to understand that while he may want to ride the Ragsdale gravy train wherever it ends, Mike Ragsdale is not exactly Mr. Popular with those of us who believe in low taxes, small government, and property rights. A lot of good people do not trust the man. It is quite easy to understand, then, why some of the same folks who do not trust Ragsdale would also fail to trust those who associate with him by extension. If Betty has it out for Mike Ragsdale, it should not extend to failing to call Brian Hornback to follow up on this story.
UPDATE: (2:17 pm 9/4)-Brian Hornback has more to say, this time about the political e-mails that were hacked into by Tyler Harber. In an e-mail to me, he writes:
"The emails did not come off of the party's hard drives. As I understand the story (from the press coverage) Tindell's personal computer was where the emails were originally."
Indeed he is right here, and if I conveyed the wrong impression, I apologize. Mr. Harber alleges that "Team Ragsdale " retrieved e-mails through the use of Tyler Harber that were originally on Chad Tindell's computer-thus making the crime all the more heinous.
About GOP computers, Hornback says-
"A party computer was not used for any activity, except to store data.
Both party computers were donated. Only one of the units is still "operational". However, the data is in the hands of the party."
Chad Tindell tells his side of the story about the purpose of "the lists" and why access to them was regulated to Betty Bean:
“It was back during the Bush/Cheney campaign. I had the idea that we should collect the names, addresses and phone numbers of anybody who came in the campaign headquarters – get them on the mailing list. With the help of Gary Drinnen, we developed these lists. We ended up with a few thousand people who’d come into the office. We had college students in the back who were putting these names into the computer in a data base. They were always intended to be property of the Knox County Republican Party.
“I’d heard rumors that Tyler wanted the lists. I don’t remember if he said he wanted it or the mayor wanted it, but I gave him a response he wasn’t happy with. I explained I did not want to turn loose of a valuable party asset.”
Tindell said any Republican candidate who wanted to use the list could do so, by sending his or her mail piece to the party office, or by having a mail house request the list. He considered this a safeguard.
“Let’s say, for example, that someone who had a political consulting company wanted to use it for their own benefit. I think Tyler was a bit aggravated, and I copied Ragsdale on all the e-mails I sent to Tyler. I wanted the mayor to know what he was saying, and I wanted him to know that I was willing to help him however I could. My goal was to help Republicans, and I thought we could best help Republicans if we maintained that list. I wasn’t doing anything that should have upset the mayor.”
If there is any truth to what Tindell says here, then he was engaging in what is common procedure for most county political parties around the country. Any compiled list of volunteers or potential volunteers has to be carefully guarded. It can't be handed out willy-nilly, not even to people with the Mayor's office. That said, as we just read, there are two versions of this story, there is Tindell's version, and there is Brian Hornback's version. Chairman Hornback is clear that Tindell tried to find someone to run against Hornback. According to Tindell:
Tindell says he decided not to seek a second term and did everything he could to help Hornback, who, once elected, “stands up and thanks the people who helped him. I’m almost positive one of them was Tyler Harber. He then announces that some new people would be in charge of the office. The women who had volunteered and worked literally full time, all day long for months and months were told ‘You’re not needed anymore.’ They were crying and upset and asking what had they done to get run out of the place. These nice, church-going, hard-working women were asking me what they’d done wrong.”
You don't do that to the Church Ladies. I think every County GOP in America has a couple of Church Ladies in the office-you know, the sweet woman who answers the phone and takes your question or inquiry or what have you. The Church Lady is a uniquely Republican feature that can't be found in other political parties, and I just couldn't dream of doing anything to hurt the Church Ladies.
But what happened to the computers?
Tindell recalls Harber coming up to him after the convention and complimenting him.
“He said ‘Chad, I’ll just tell you. You are the best chairman the party ever had.’ Then he goes off and I get in my truck and go to lunch. A little while later, I get a phone call from one of the ladies who’s been kicked out. They’d gone back to collect their personal belongings and when they got there, there were these people taking all the computers. Friends of Tyler. The ladies freaked out. By the time I got there, just the ladies were there, and I later discovered the ladies had called the press.”
Tindell said he learned later that all the password-protected computer hard drives had been copied, and he wasn’t sure why.
“I was contacted by the media, made contacts with members of the media and was critical of what had gone down.”
What happened was that Tyler Harber hacked e-mails off Chad Tindell's computer and took these to Mike Arms. An anonymous source seconded the Harber story to The World that just as Harber describes, Ragsdale lackey Mike Arms admitted that he saw the private e-mails that Harber claims to have presented to him, and by extension, to Mike Ragsdale.
On Monday, Harber said he delivered the e-mails to Arms, who reviewed them and called Ragsdale. “He calls Ragsdale and says, ‘You need to see these when you get in this afternoon.'"
“He gets out a highlighter and starts highlighting passages that really (anger him). He has me make copies and he sits there steaming. One thing that really makes him mad is a conversation between Chad and two other people who were saying things like ‘Chad, why don’t you run for county mayor’ … That sent him over the top. He was already mad about Chad withholding the list.
“Chad was a well developed enemy, so he picked up the phone and calls Chad and says ‘Chad, we’ve got your e-mails. I’ve seen everything you’ve written. We’re not helping you. You’ve made yourself an enemy.’ He had similar conversations with two other people and then he pats me on the back, tells me I did a good job, and that was it.
“If Ragsdale hadn’t flown off the handle and made those calls, there would have been no police investigation, and we would have kept on with business as usual.”
Good job? Let's see, hacking into Chad Tindell's hard drive and getting anti-Ragsdale e-mails and tipping off the Mayor to who he needs to target within the Party is a good job...it is also criminal activity. If all Ragsdale did was use these e-mails to discover the activities of his Party opponents, he was an accessory to a crime, as was Mike Arms. If all they did was look at the e-mails, they possessed stolen property.
Tindell had a busy Monday, too. First, he checked around to see if anyone he’d e-mailed had forwarded his e-mails to anyone. The answer was no.
“Soon, I was firmly of the opinion that he (Harber) had them.”
That afternoon, Republican party officials called a meeting to sort things out. They asked Tindell to attend. During the meeting, he got an urgent call from GOP activist Tammy White Miller.
“She said ‘I just got a call from Mike Ragsdale. He said your e-mails got delivered to him.’ I knew then what had happened,” Tindell said. Miller and another friend, lobbyist Susie Alcorn, had been e-mailing him to congratulate him on the job he’d done as party chair.
“They made a joking comment to me – ‘How does County Mayor Chad Tindell sound?’ I told them I thought Mike Ragsdale had that job for the next four years. I don’t think the mayor read that part. The whole thing was a joke. They were political friends of mine.”
When Tindell returned to his office, a message from Ragsdale was awaiting him. He called the mayor and tried to explain:
“I was saying, ‘Hey look, Mike, this isn’t true. I support you. This was just chitchat among friends.’ Once I got the call from the mayor, I knew my computer had been violated. I went home, unplugged my computer and took it to a computer expert … he looked it over and found some remnants of what he termed a Trojan Horse, which can be planted in your computer. At that point, I’m very worried. I’ve got my personal tax information, lawsuit information from work. It was suggested to me that it was a federal crime, so I called the FBI. I could have called a whole lot of different people and made a stink if I was motivated by politics. …”
This is the mark of a man with a dictatorial personality. Mike Ragsdale was so afraid of opposition that he turned on Tindell over e-mails from a couple of activists that could easily be explained. It is classic meglomaniacal paranoia, and it is a trait exhibited by the Mayor of Knox County who wants to be our Governor...sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
Harber on leaving town:
“At this point, when I’m talking to Arms about it, we are under the impression that this group of deputies was acting outside the law. They are out to get Ragsdale and they’re going to do anything it takes to do it.”
Sounds to me like they were/are out to uncover criminal activity. Thanks to Harber's desire to get back at Ragsdale, who he believes "betrayed" him, it is being uncovered for them.
“He (Arms) asked me about my computer at work, and I didn’t think there was anything on it, but I told him I’d take care of that. I immediately went to the AJ building to put my computer in a location that was not easily accessible to this group of people that we thought was operating outside the law. I didn’t take it outside the building. Arms had told me to secure my stuff, to make sure they had no way of getting to us.”
After that, Harber went to Groves’ house off Western Avenue, staying in contact with Arms via cell phone.
“This was a problem of mammoth proportions,” Harber said. “He said he had just talked to (Police Chief) Sterling Owen. He was going to try and get some city involvement.”
Harber left Groves’ place, and “as soon as I pull out of Adam’s driveway, here was this guy right on my tail. I immediately call Arms and tell him I’m being tailed. He tells me just to go back to Adam’s house, and we’ll get some city cops out there. By this time I’d gotten onto 640 headed toward Western Avenue, but the guy was so close to me I was afraid if I slowed down he would hit me. At this time, I passed up Western Avenue, so I sped up to get away from him. He seemed to be trying to nudge me. Soon as I sped up, he turned on his blue lights and a blue Explorer turned on its blue lights, and I tried to call Arms. One of the guys comes up, in plain clothes, he shows me a badge. The guy behind me came up and started cussing and screaming at me. I opened the door and they dragged me out of the car.”
Harber was cuffed and put in the back of a cruiser. He says he was never read his rights even though he spent 30 minutes in the cruiser while they went through his car. Finally, Butch Bryant, an attorney who works for the Sheriff’s Office, got in next to him. Someone pushed a button on the in-car recorder, but Harber refused to talk.
“The cuffs were so tight I couldn’t feel my right hand.”
Suddenly, everything changed. The cuffs came off and he was handed a speeding ticket. They were like, ‘Here’s your ticket. Drive safe.’ ” Later he heard that Sheriff Tim Hutchison ordered his release. He spent the night with a friend, not willing to return home.
The next day, he went into the office and met with Arms and Ragsdale. He agreed to resign, and Ragsdale agreed to pay him $14,000 from his campaign fund and give him a job working on his ’06 re-election campaign, effective immediately.
“After I gave my resignation, I went to Atlanta to clear my head. I was a little spooked, too. I was still under the assumption that these guys were operating outside the law. I get back the next week, call Arms. I still had my laptop and phone. I turned all my stuff in, met with Todd Cook, Dick Moran and John Gustin to do it. We stood around and joked. Here’s where things went south on me – after they turned the computer over to the Sheriff’s Office."
So the deal is that they turn over Harber's information to make him the fall guy while Ragsdale/Arms come off squeaky clean. I suppose Ragsdale thought Harber would be too frightened to rat.
“I asked when I could get to work on the campaign.
“Arms just flat out told me it wasn’t going to happen. Conditions weren’t right for Ragsdale to give me my severance pay. It was just too hot. When Arms told me I should just leave town, I knew I had been sold out. I can’t recall anything that has hurt me more than to have been sold out by two men to whom I had been extremely loyal, did every single thing they asked of me.
“Mike Ragsdale betrayed me. Flat-out betrayed me. I was completely and utterly devastated. Everyone knew that I was Ragsdale’s boy. I was with him all the time. Everyone knew I was the bullet taker. They’ve tried to spin that I was a rogue, operating independently – but that just doesn’t wash. How does an unknown kid get all these political clients who just so happen to be Ragsdale’s friends? I made a damn good living, and it sure wasn’t on what I was making from the county. They were paying me to do political work and my job was to do whatever they told me to do.”
Mike Ragsdale should remember the old saying my mother used to tell me growing up-"your sins will find you out." Ragsdale thought he could get everyone else to take the heat for the misdeeds of his administration, but the buck stops with him. At the very least, Mike Ragsdale's political career is finished and he will fade into political oblivion in 2010. At most it will be found that he was complicit in these crimes in an investigation. I personally believe that he likely was, but even Mike Ragsdale deserves a fair hearing in the justice system. The fact that he does not embrace an investigation to clear his name says a lot about the situation.
Could Mike Ragsdale read the e-mails?
“I wasn’t the only one who could get these e-mails – there were a number of people, including Ragsdale and especially Arms, who had enough knowledge about the e-mail situation to have retrieved them themselves. They were just asking me to do some leg work.
“If Ragsdale was going to fire me over the e-mails, why didn’t he fire me Monday? He only got antsy when it started coming to light, and that probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t flown off the handle and made those phone calls.”
Harber was the fall guy. This is why Ragsdale can say Harber is "a troubled young man." I am sure he is-I would be too if the man who "made" me used me and then threw me away. Tyler Harber was and is a criminal, of that I have no doubt. Criminal behavior, however, is often learned by surrounding yourself with people who commit crimes or see no harm in doing so.