Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett must answer to the state over allegations of campaign finance misdoings.
On Wedneday, the board of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance voted 4 to 1 to issue a show cause to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, after they discussed a complaint filed by Knoxville News Sentinel opinion columnist Pam Strickland.
In it, she cites a series of KNS articles that raise questions over mis-stated funds from Burchett's 2010 election, involving checks to Burchett's estranged wife, Allison Burchett.
In the complaint, Strickland states that she filed it as a Knox County voter so that the district attorney can proceed with an investigation into the alleged irregularities.
Read: Registry of Election Finance Sworn Complaint (pdf)
State law says that such investigations cannot happen without a formal complaint being submitted first and heard before the state.
Burchett did not attend Wednesday's meeting in Nashville, where the five-member board talked about the allegations that thousands of dollars in checks written from Burchett's campaign account, by his estranged wife, don't match his campaign's submitted financial records.
The issues are whether the check amounts were included in the statements at all, if they were made out for more than records indicate, or if they were erroneously written.
The mayor's attorney, Stephen Zralek, told the board that the mayor was unaware of the allegations until the newspaper reported the discrepancies earlier this summer.
Board member Hank Fincher, a divorce lawyer from Cookeville who told 10News he worked with Burchett in the legislature, was quick to point out that Strickland's complaint contains no first-hand knowledge of the accusations, and that it is solely based on newspaper reporting.
Fincher told the board that the absence of sworn testimony of the facts presented in the complaint is not adequate proof of any wrong doing by Burchett, and that a show cause is unmerited.
Board chair Justin Pitt, and several other members, disagreed with Fincher. They said, although there could be an issue of first-hand proof, they felt the newspaper is a credible publication. They believe Strickland's complaint raised enough questions to require the show cause.
Burchett did amend his financial reports after the initial KNS story ran, but, according to the board, the balances were not changed after payment amounts were adjusted. Pitt says that is reason enough to ask for the show cause.
The board says the show cause is not an accusation of wrong-doing on Burchett's part. Rather, they want to give him and his attorney a chance to go through his campaign records.
"Actually, it's favorable. I'm glad that they're going to give me the
opportunity to explain where the funds went. I can assure you nobody
wants to get to the bottom of it more than I do," Burchett said. "I think people are
pretty aware of what happened and where it went."
This is also a chance for Strickland to present that first-hand proof that the board would like, though she told 10News that she does not intend to submit any more information.
The committee meets again on October 23 to further discuss the matter.
Neither Burchett nor his attorney is required to attend. They can submit a written response eight days earlier. However, if they are in attendance, it would give them a chance to clarify any questions the board might have.