Garrett turned to the TBI and asked for an audit of the Smyrna airport’s police department TIES/NCIC/CJWP system. It was during the audit of that system that the TBI discovered that District 2 Wilson County Commissioner Chris Sorey, a policeman in the department, had allegedly used the system to run unauthorized background checks on citizens, according to TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm. Smyrna Airport police were notified that Sorey had used the system to run private records on citizens, including Mt. Juliet city employees.
Mt. Juliet City Manager Randy Robertson said Monday Garrett told him that the private records other City employees had been compromised, but Robertson did not know how many and would not divulge their identities. He said Gaskin had spoken with the chief of the Smyrna Airport police department, Joe Johnson, “late last winter or early spring of this year trying to get a resolution.”
Neither Smyrna Airport Executive Director John Black nor Chief Johnson returned repeated requests for comment on this article. Robertson said that while the TBI’s involvement is finished, Smyrna’s investigation is ongoing.
“I do know that Mr. Gaskin was pleased to know that there was a legitimacy to his concerns,” Robertson said. “He’s pleased to know of the efforts taken by Chief Garrett to look into his concerns.”
Robertson added that the City has requests for public records for both the TBI audit and the Smyrna Airport investigation to eventually obtain information about the background checks of City employees.
The question remains as to why it took almost one year to investigate the reportedly unauthorized use of the system by Sorey to access personal records or what purpose he had in running the background checks.
Although he agreed to answer questions asked of him by this newspaper on Monday, Sorey said on Tuesday that his attorney, Alan Poindexter of Lebanon, had advised him that he should conduct only one interview, which he said would be aired on television on Tuesday night. He refused any other comment.
Sorey’s fellow county commissioners, however, did have comments, especially when applied to the county commission’s Code of Ethics and a possible ethics investigation. “Wow,” remarked District 13 County Commissioner Clint Thomas, of Mt. Juliet, when told about the allegations for the first time Tuesday. “That is definitely something to cause someone to pause and look at. This needs to be looked at.”
Thomas, who is on the county commission’s Ethics Committee, said that committee would have to wait for someone – whether it be a fellow commissioner or a private citizen – to file a complaint against Sorey in order to be considered.
“I would feel more comfortable with another individual (not on the Ethics Committee) filing a complaint because the Ethics Committee shouldn’t be viewed as a witch-hunt or a body going out to pursue something of this nature,” Thomas said.
He added that the Ethics Committee adopted the model provided by the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) when the state legislature recently required governments to adopt ethics codes and form committees. The rules of that model require complaints against elected officials to be formally submitted in writing.
“Based on the rules, an individual would have to file a complaint,” agreed District 8 County Commissioner and Ethics Committee Chairman Frank Bush. “It could be a commissioner or someone perceived they were hurt by Sorey’s actions. If someone does file a complaint we are obligated to meet and consider it.”
There are two rules adopted by the Ethics Commission that could apply to Sorey’s alleged actions: Official misconduct and Misuse of official information. County Attorney Mike Jennings was unavailable for comment on Monday and Tuesday as to whether these rules would apply to Sorey as a county commissioner.
Sorey reportedly was placed on unpaid administrative leave from the Smyrna Airport in mid-November, just before he formally resigned from employment at the airport. The TBI, Helm said Tuesday, alerted the Rutherford County district attorney’s office to results of the audit, but as of Tuesday they have not received a request to open a criminal investigation.
“This sounds like to me as the same deal as that state trooper who got caught looking up people’s information,” mused Thomas on Tuesday. “(Sorey) is an elected official and needs to be held to a higher standard.”
Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.