A Call For Ouster of Newly-Elected Sumner County Commissioner Guilty of Two Separate Criminal Offenses In Less Than Two Months

Franklin “Gene” Rhodes, Sumner County District 7 Commissioner, elected to his first term as a District 7 Sumner County Commissioner, is guilty of two misdemeanor crimes since November 13, 2018, and there has been a call for his ouster.

The most recent charge, disposed of at a criminal hearing on December 19, was for domestic assault.

The charge came from a confrontation with his ex-wife, Melissa French-Rhodes, on November 20. As reported by The Tennessean, Rhodes reportedly pushed his ex-wife while she was holding a child in the presence of a male friend, French-Rhodes’ mother and another unidentified woman. When the male friend attempted to intervene, Rhodes apparently then hit the friend.

The report said that French-Rhodes was “very fearful of the defendant; especially since he had been drinking alcohol.”

The charges were filed on November 28, the same day a $2,500 cash bond was posted, according to the Sumner County Online Court Records System.

Court records show that in the case was disposed of with Rhodes “guilty as charged” of domestic assault under Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 39-13-111, which is linked to the more general crime of assault under TCA 39-13-101.

TCA defines assault as intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another; causing another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; or causing physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.

All three are classified as a misdemeanor and, as such punishable by a fine, in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed.

The Hendersonville Standard reports that Rhodes was sentenced to “supervised probation as well as a suspended sentence of 11 months, 29 days in jail. He was also ordered to take a domestic violence class, undergo an alcohol and drug assessment, and pay a $25 fine plus court costs – an amount of $571.95, according to a court document. Rhodes was also ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined.”

An ex parte order of protection for French-Rhodes was served against Rhodes on November 26, which came along with $286.57 in court-related fees and taxes, payable and still owed by Rhodes.

“Divorce with minor children” paperwork was filed by French-Rhodes against Rhodes on June 27, with court records showing the status to have been disposed of on October 1.

From an earlier incident, a case was closed on November 13 in which Rhodes was “guilty as charged” for violating TCS 55-10-106, immediate notice of accident, related to an accident with occurred on September 15.

According to the police report, Rhodes arrived at a Hendersonville restaurant, Jonathan’s Grille, at around 11 p.m. He ordered a beer, which he only partially drank, and apparently fell asleep at the bar.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., restaurant employees called an UBER to take Rhodes home. After initially getting in the UBER vehicle, he returned to his own vehicle and drove away.
In the process of driving away, Rhodes hit the car of a restaurant employee causing enough damage so that it could not be driven.

Hendersonville police arrived on scene about 2:19 a.m. They were unable to locate Rhodes until later that day. Rhodes did not remember hitting the vehicle in Jonathan’s parking lot, but police observed damage to Rhodes’ vehicle and he admitted to drinking alcoholic beverages before the crash.

The crime of failure to immediately report an accident is a misdemeanor. Rhodes was fined $25 in addition to $261 in court-related fees and taxes.

Even before Rhodes was found guilty of the domestic assault charge, citizen Lee Hord wrote a letter to Sumner County District Attorney General Ray Whitley calling for ouster proceedings to be instituted against Rhodes.

Lee Hord resides in the same Sumner County Commission district as Rhodes and was an opposing candidate to Rhodes in the May 1, 2018, Republican primary. In a three-way race for two county commission seats, Hord took 27  percent of the vote against Rhodes’ 34 percent and the top vote getter, Loren Echols, at 38 percent.

Hord based his request to the Attorney General Whitley pursuant to TCA 8-47-101, whereby county officials may be ousted from office for knowingly or willfully committing misconduct in office; neglect to perform any duty enjoined upon such officer by any of the laws of the state; in any public place be in a state of intoxication produced by strong drink voluntarily taken; engage in any form of illegal gambling; or commit any act constituting a violation of any penal statute involving moral turpitude.

Hord cites Rhodes’ admission to “voluntarily becoming intoxicated in public space,” as well as the incident in which, “Commissioner Rhodes assaulted his ex-wife with child in-hand,” where, “Again alcohol was involved.”

“Given a pattern of moral turpitude,” Hord continues in his request to Whitley, “I respectfully beseech you to begin ouster proceedings immediately on behalf of the community and Sumner County.”

According to US Legal, Inc. the definition of moral turpitude “refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience.” Legaldictionary.net states that “moral turpitude is a legal concept that refers to any conduct that is believed to be contrary to the community standards of honesty, justice or good moral values.”

While legaldictionary.com’s description goes on to say that “there is no one exact definition of acts that are considered under moral turpitude,” it also states that the term is not necessarily associated with a crime.  “In a legal sense, moral turpitude affects a wide range of activities, some of which are unlawful, and some of which are not.”

More closely related to the situation of an elected official, legaldictionary.com says that, “In many areas, conduct of moral turpitude may be used to determine the honesty or trustworthiness of a candidate for office.” It also mentions other types of situations where evaluations of conduct may be necessary, such as applicants for certain types of jobs and witnesses at trial.

The District Attorney General’s initial response, Hord told The Tennessee Star, was that he would wait for the outcome of the December 19 court date.

If the District Attorney General decides not to move forward, ouster proceedings may be filed by citizens, with ten or more citizens instituting the process and posting security for the costs of the lawsuit.

In the case of a citizen-initiated ouster proceeding, it is the duty of the district attorney general, upon request of the citizens, to aid and assist in the prosecution.

With no qualifying Democrat in the May 1 primary and no independent in the August 2 general election which would demonstrate an interest in and effort to pursue the position, should he request the appointment, Hord would be the logical choice for the County Commission to replace Rhodes in the event of his ouster.

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Background Photo “Sumner County Courthouse” by Ichabod. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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