The political spat between Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell and At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard has intensified following a Bellevue community cleanup last Saturday morning that Mitchell claims was also a campaign event for his election opponent.
At issue is a recent outing on Bellevue’s Newsom Station Road during which Mitchell photographed his District 35 opponent, former Metro Planning commissioner Tonya Jones, Tygard and several Davidson County Drug Court workers who were cutting grass.
In an invitation, Jones had called the event a community cleanup, but Mitchell has alleged the two were unlawfully using Metro employees and vehicles for political purposes. Jones is seen wearing a campaign T-shirt, with yard signs nearby. Tygard, who supports Jones’ candidacy, has said he organized the event, and invited Jones — as well as Mitchell — to attend.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mitchell referenced the episode during deliberation of a Tygard-sponsored ordinance introduced following the controversy involving Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence. The bill, which cleared the council’s second of three votes Tuesday, clarifies the proper uses of government automobiles.
Mitchell had council attorney Don Jones read the part of Tygard’s legislation that says Metro-owned vehicles aren’t to be used for “transporting any political campaign literature or matter, or to engage in soliciting votes, or to transport any person or persons soliciting votes in any election or primary.”
Suggesting Tygard had broken a rule within his own ordinance, Mitchell told the council: “[There are] clear abuses from people within our own body.”
Also on Tuesday, Tygard sent a letter to council members, which he began by calling the dispute “political mudslinging initiated by Councilman Mitchell.”
In the letter, Tygard, a former Bellevue district council member, said multiple citizens alerted him to the “blighted” stretch of Newsom Station Road at a Bellevue picnic in May. Working in conjunction with Bellevue Councilman Eric Crafton, Tygard said he dispatched a sheriff’s community service crew to the area on Tuesday, June 14.
Tygard said he requested assistance from the Davidson County Drug Court for the now-disputed event last Saturday. Tygard said nine community volunteers took part. While they were conducting the work, Tygard said Mitchell appeared.
“I was expecting Councilman Mitchell to assist us with our efforts, but instead with camera in hand, he began shouting that this was an illegal event because, according to him, taxpayer dollars were funding a political event,” Tygard wrote.
Tygard said the group invited Mitchell to set up a tent, but he went ahead and contacted media and distributed his photos instead. Tygard described Mitchell’s actions as “intimidation.”
“Colleagues, please do not be fooled by the attempted smokescreen by Councilman Mitchell,” Tygard wrote. “His allegations couldn’t be more baseless.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell has alerted council members to a letter from Trial Court Administrator Tim Townsend, which he issued in response to a series of questions from Mitchell.
Regarding Saturday’s event, Townsend wrote: “The staff was not aware the event could be a political or campaign event. The crew had been instructed to provide routine lawn care service at an intersection where they could encounter traffic. In the future, the drug court staff will be more diligent in pre-screening requests for service.”
According to Townsend, the drug court is funded through a combination of state and federal grants, as well as drug fines. He said it is the drug court’s policy to refrain from participation in political events.