County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has acknowledged to the TBI responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voter opinions of state Sen. Stacey Campfield while declaring there was no intention of harassing those getting the calls or attacking Campfield, his attorney said Monday.
Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon, LLC, spoke “in a very lengthy interview” to a TBI investigator last week and explained that the survey was a matter of “internal testing” of the firm’s surveying system that went awry through a “computer glitch” that caused many of the 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls, said G. Turner Howard III, Farmer’s attorney.
The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols in response to an initial request to the TBI from Campfield. A TBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency has not turned over its final report to Nichols and declined further comment because the matter is part of “an ongoing investigation.”
Campfield said Howard’s explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” and that Farmer’s acknowledgment indicated political motives. Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary. Briggs’ first campaign financial disclosure shows $7,000 in payments to Cyragon.
After a conversation with Sen. Stacey Campfield, District Attorney General Randy Nichols said Wednesday he is asking the TBI to proceed with an investigation into whether state anti-harassment laws were violated by automated calls to voters asking their opinion of the senator.
Campfield told Nichols, according to interviews with both men, that he believes the calls were intended to make people mad at him and that a possible source of the calls was Ben Farmer, who owns Cyragon LLC, a political consulting company that has been paid $7,000 by the campaign of Richard Briggs, an announced opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary.
Briggs said he had nothing to do with the “robo poll” made late last month. Farmer has acted as a consultant to his campaign, he said.
Nichols said that preliminary inquires left it apparent that some people receiving the calls “felt they were harassed” and “we’re going to go a little deeper into it to see if we can determine who caused the calls to be made.”
Some people reported receiving repeated call backs – as many as 37 – and Campfield contends the calls appeared programmed to keep calling back the same number until the respondent gave an unfavorable opinion of Campfield.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has requested a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into an automated telephone poll last month asking voters about their opinion of him, saying the survey may have violated anti-harassment laws by making repeated return calls to the same households.
The Knoxville Republican said he met with a TBI agent, providing him with information, including emails from people saying they got multiple calls — 20 or 30 in some cases — that began with a declaration that “Citizen Opinion Research” was conducting a “quick one-minute survey” of voter opinions on Campfield.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm confirmed that Agent Darren DeArmond met with Campfield and accepted the information. TBI officials, in turn, took the information to Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. Under state law, a formal TBI investigation must be requested in most situations by a district attorney general.
Nichols said he asked that TBI do some more preliminary research — contacting some people who sent emails, for example, to ascertain how many calls they received and when.
“Some of the information we got we need to verify a bit,” said Nichols. “It’s way too early to put a world of resources into it. … We need to figure out if a crime was committed.”
Nichols said that repeated phone calls could be a violation of anti-harassment laws. He said there was one mention of someone receiving 37 calls during an evening.
“Now, if that’s the case, that’s something we need to take a look at,” he said. “I suspect it might be some kind of computer error.”
After getting the followup information from TBI, Nichols said he will make a decision on whether to request a full-blown investigation.
Campfield and Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in the 2014 Republican primary, both say they had nothing to do with the calls.
Campfield said he believes many of the callbacks were to people who gave him a favorable rating in the poll, and the callbacks continued until the call recipient gave him a negative rating.
Briggs said that “just as speculation” he thought the poll might have been conducted for some local media outlet.
Voters in state Sen. Stacey Campfield’s district have been bombarded with automated phone calls asking their opinion of him, but both the Republican lawmaker and his primary challenger say they had nothing to do with the survey.
Campfield and Richard Briggs, a physician and Knox County commissioner who has declared himself a candidate for Senate District 7 in the 2014 Republican primary, said they have heard from people unhappy with the calls. In many cases, there were apparently repeated callbacks.
“It was OK to respond once, but I didn’t want to respond 20 times,” said Pam Jordan, a retired KUB employee who said she began receiving repeated calls starting at about 6:30 p.m. Monday and continuing until 8:23 p.m.
If she hung up on the call, there was an immediate call back, she said. If she responded, there would still be another call perhaps five minutes later, Jordan said.
She declined to say which of five options she chose from those presented for an opinion on Campfield, who has stirred controversy both with bills filed and comments made as a legislator.
Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, a cardiothoracic surgeon and retired Army colonel, said Friday he intends to seek the 7th District Senate seat held by Stacey Campfield, reports Georgiana Vines. He has named former County Commissioner Frank Leuthold as his treasurer. Briggs said he had been having weekly meetings with prospective supporters for several months and didn’t intend to make any announcements quite this soon for an election in 2014.
But with Campfield making news in Nashville with some of his proposed legislation, “it’s fair to say, everything was coming to a head. I was starting to get calls from people. We thought we should go ahead and pull the trigger and start rallying people,” he said.
Briggs and Campfield are Republicans. Briggs’ naming of Leuthold with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance allows him to start raising money for a campaign for the Republican primary on Aug. 7, 2014.
Campfield did not return a phone call seeking comment on Briggs’ potential candidacy.
Briggs, 60, had told the News Sentinel in September he was considering the race.
He and his wife, Stephanie, have bought a condo on Lanesborough Way in the 7th District where they vote, although they still use a house she owns on Breakwater Drive on the lake, he said.
Briggs has been on County Commission since 2008.
Campfield, in his first term as senator after serving in the state House, is his own treasurer, according to the state registry. The latest financial disclosures report filed Jan. 31 showed he had $11,386 in his campaign account.
— Note: Brian Stevens, 30, a statistics professor at the University of Tennessee, had previously announced as a Democratic candidate for Campfield’s seat. A Metro Pulse profile of Stevens and his campaign is HERE.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield is in the middle of a four-year term but already has at least two potential opponents to re-election in 2014, reports Georgiana Vines. The latest is Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, a cardiothoracic surgeon and retired Army colonel who has served in active and reserve units.
Briggs, a Republican, acknowledges an interest and says he will wait until after the Nov. 6 elections before making a decision.
…Brian Stevens, a full-time lecturer in statistics and mathematics at the University of Tennessee, already is campaigning for the post. He considered running for the 15th House District seat as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Joe Armstrong this year but did not. He said at the time his long-term goal was to run against Campfield. He plans to run as a Democrat, he said.