The Town of Collierville has hired a lawyer to investigate an ethics complaint filed by Sanjeev Memula, mayor Stan Joyner announced at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Filed earlier this month, the complaint alleges the town was unethical in hosting a rally for Republican candidates on Oct. 26.
“At this very town hall, where you pass laws and where you pass ordinances, there was a campaign rally/meet-and-greet in the chambers with signs for Congressman [David] Kustoff and there were signs for gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee,” Memula, a Democrat who opposed Republican incumbent Kevin Vaughan for the Tennessee House of Representatives’ District 95 seat, said.
A lawyer, Memula told the board he filed the complaint because he believes the event was used for partisan gain.
“This town prides itself on being non-partisan,” he said, noting photos from the event published by media outlets showed various town leaders speaking at the event.
“I feel that was inappropriate and a misuse of town funds,” he told the board. “What I’m here for today is to make sure the process is both accountable and transparent.”
Memula asked an open investigation – where the public can be made aware of the findings – be conducted.
“There’s nothing private about what happened. It was put on, The Commercial Appeal was here, all these findings need to be put in public.”
He also asked a neutral party decide in which way town administrator James Llewellyn, the subject of the complaint, should be held accountable and said aldermen who were in attendance that day should recuse themselves from that process as a conflict of interest exists.
Llewellyn said the candidates planned to hold the rally on the steps at town hall, but he told them they could go inside because it was cold and rainy.
He told the Commercial Appeal the town doesn’t generally allow private functions at town hall, but “left with a choice, do we allow people to stand outside freezing? I made the decision to let them come in.”
Memula also suggested a police detail at the rally was a misuse of funds, questioned whether the candidates collected money or did any fundraising on the grounds, asked who paid for the rally and suggested the board pass “stronger ethical laws” regarding political events on town property “so this can never happen again.”
Attorney Julie Byrd Ashworth, the treasurer of the Shelby County Democratic Party, supported Memula’s complaint, telling the board the party was denied the opportunity to host an event at another town-owned facility.
“Traci Saltwell, who is a member of the Shelby County Democratic Party, contacted the Town of Collierville to use the library public meeting space for a fee, she was willing to pay a fee for it, for a meeting.”
Byrd-Ashworth alleged after Saltwell told city officials the meeting was for the SCDP, she was reportedly “not allowed any further discussion” and was told “town building were not allowed to be used for partisan events.”
“That’s what made what happened on Oct. 26 reprehensible and abhorrent to me,” she said. “We … expect the town facilities that our tax dollars go for to be respected. If you are gonna allow an event like this on Oct. 26, that Mr. Llewellyn has taken personal responsibility for allowing to happen, then we ask for the same exact use for the same facility on the same grounds on the same procedures and on the same rules and regulations that were allowed by the Republican party or whomever scheduled that.”
She also supported his request for an open investigation.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant for any potential question. If there’s an ethics issue that has occurred here, as Mr. Memula suggested, we need to have a very transparent process that is accountable, is reportable, is also open to the public for information.”
Joyner said a report of the findings should be available this week and those should be shared during the regularly-scheduled Dec. 10 meeting if available in time to include in public notices where the agenda is officially announced.
Prior to the Collierville rally, Kustoff and Lee made a campaign stop at Munford and held the rally inside Munford's fire station.