Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the city recently examined treasurer named Kate Farmer, who was placed on administrative leave after three federal lawsuits emerged against her because of her previous job, and that the city hired an outside lawyer to investigate the charges against her.
At a press conference on Friday, Berke told reporters that Farmer had been vetted by a third-party background check service, RecordPros, days before the lawsuits were filed and that the city was not aware of the lawsuits before. his hiring at the end of March and confirmation by the City Council on Tuesday evening.
Farmer, 37, was put on paid administrative leave on Thursday after a Times Free Press report revealed lawsuits brought by former police officers in Guernsey Wyoming, where Farmer was previously clerk and treasurer.
Lawsuits filed in April, less than a week after Chattanooga apparently received Farmer’s background check, allege Farmer illegally hacked the city’s police chief’s email and released confidential information in an attempt to ‘usurp an investigation into corruption and drug use among other city employees.
The information had been passed on to federal and state law enforcement agencies using the town chief’s email, according to complaints filed by the chief and the two other officers. The three officers were then fired by Farmer and other city officials, according to the lawsuits.
The gravity of the accusations stunned some citizens and council members, as did the fact that they did not come forward during the hiring process. But Berke, who practiced law before serving in government and was named in several lawsuits as a public official, said the city had no plans to revoke Farmer’s post until complaints are investigated.
“The reason she is on administrative leave is that we can investigate and find out if she committed any of these acts, misconduct, and if so, we will take appropriate action.” , said Berke. “Understand that lawsuits are allegations. The city is regularly sued for all kinds of things. The main question I want to know is whether it has committed any acts of misconduct. That should be our guiding principle. did we request that an investigation be conducted. “
The mayor’s office hired Sam Elliott along with Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon, an outside lawyer commonly used by the city, to conduct the investigation.
In the meantime, several board members have suggested recalling their unanimous confirmation of Farmer in light of the accusations, which operations chief Maura Sullivan said would disqualify Farmer from the job.
“Those responsible for the charter are to be appointed under section 8.33 of the charter by the mayor, with the approval of a majority vote of the council,” Sullivan told The Times Free Press by email. “Ms. Farmer would be required to step down as town treasurer in the event that she does not have the approval of the majority of the municipal council or if she is removed by the mayor in accordance with article 8.33. “
Sullivan says that while this does not disqualify Farmer from other positions in the city, hiring is limited due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“To be clear, Ms. Farmer has not been found in violation of any law or misconduct. The lawsuit in which she is named has not been resolved,” Sullivan said. “She would be welcome, like everyone else, to apply for all the jobs that we have opened. However, we are in a hiring freeze so very few jobs are open now.”
Sullivan said that although the city received 60 applications for the farmer job, it was the most qualified because of her tenure in Wyoming.
After apparently learning of the accusations against Farmer only Wednesday morning when one of the many Wyoming news articles about the incident was shared with her, Sullivan says no one in town Google searches for candidates until they do. be hired.
“The city considers the merit of background and supplier reference checks and the strength of the interview for hiring decisions,” she wrote.
When questioned, Sullivan said Farmer had “no connection to Chattanooga or to the city government of Chattanooga”.
Phone messages left with Farmer and his attorney in Wyoming were not returned.
Farmer’s salary is $ 80,000 and she is paid while on leave. According to her claim, provided by officials at Chattanooga, she was paid about $ 57,000 per year in Wyoming. She served there for five years and previously sat on local trade and tourism boards in Guernsey, according to her resume.
Farmer graduated in Business Administration from the University of Wyoming and said in her application that she was seeking a Masters of Public Administration from Ohio University.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at email@example.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.