Ray Whitley

Ray Whitley

The arrest last week of District 7 County Commissioner Gene Rhodes has some asking if Rhodes can be forced to resign should he be found guilty of the domestic assault charge he’s accused of.

Court records show Rhodes, who was elected to his first term in August, also pleaded guilty in November to failing to notify authorities of an accident he was involved in. (See accompanying article)

According to County Attorney Leah Dennen, the rules governing county officials are established by state statutes.

According to TCA 8-47-101, county officials may be ousted from office for knowing or willful misconduct in office; knowing or willful neglect of duties required by law; voluntary intoxication in a public place; engaging in illegal gambling; or committing any act violating any penal statute “involving moral turpitude.”

Ouster proceedings, a matter for civil court, may be initiated by the attorney general, district attorney general or county attorney, either on their own or after a complaint has been made, according to the statute. Neither the county commission nor the county executive is authorized by statute to bring ouster proceedings against county officials.

Ouster proceedings are rare, and, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court, should only be brought “when there is a clear case of official dereliction.”

Although rare, the issue has come up within the last year in Sumner County.

In February, Hendersonville Alderwoman Angie Hedberg announced her resignation from the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen after Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley said he was prepared to file an ouster petition against her.

Whitley initiated an investigation into whether ouster proceedings would be warranted against Hedberg in December of 2017 after Hedberg was convicted of two DUI’s within a few months of one another.

“Most people think that because she had two DUI’s she met the criteria for the [ouster] statute, but we had to look further than that,” Whitley said in February. Whitley said then that his office was prepared to prove that Hedberg was intoxicated with alcohol in public on three separate occasions.

Whitley confirmed on Tuesday that he has received a letter asking him to initiate ouster proceedings against Rhodes.

“I did receive a request from Lee Hord,” said Whitley, adding that he has been in the middle of grand jury proceedings this week. “I’ll have to look at it.”  

Hord lost to Rhodes and Loren Echols in a three-way race in the May Republican primary.

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