This story was updated at 7:54 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, with more information.
The Chattanooga City Council voted to rescind approval of the new city treasurer just one week after her confirmation, after three federal lawsuits against her from her previous role surfaced.
In a 7-1 vote late Tuesday, the council revoked its previous unanimous approval of Kate Farmer as city treasurer out of concern that she had not been transparent about the lawsuits filed against her during her last role as treasurer and clerk of Guernsey, Wyoming.
Farmer, 37, has been accused by three former police officers of hacking emails to interfere with an investigation involving other city employees and firing the officers out of retaliation.
"Last week, we confirmed the appointment of our city treasurer and immediately following that appointment, even later that night, we learned of additional information about this individual that I feel should have been disclosed," Councilman Ken Smith said before moving to rescind approval. "It's not the information, it's the lack of disclosure. So because it's information that was not disclosed for us to be part of our decision, I would like to move to rescind appointment confirmation."
Farmer was offered the Chattanooga job in late March, according to records provided by the city, and was named along with other Guernsey city officials in three separate lawsuits filed on April 9.
Farmer, who was hired at a rate of $80,000 annually, was placed on paid administrative leave last week after the Times Free Press reported about the lawsuits. The disputes had apparently gone unnoticed by the city and undisclosed by Farmer during the hiring process, although officials later said the lawsuits were filed after a background check was performed by an outside firm.
Chairman Chip Henderson, the sole dissenting vote in Tuesday's reversal, said that he voted to respect the council's role in the hiring process.
"Our role is to confirm or to authorize the hire. We're not involved in vetting and we're not in the background check business," Henderson said, putting the onus on Mayor Andy Berke for the controversial hire. "This is the mayor's appointment. This whole situation, this problem, is on the mayor and it is his to own, not [the] council's. He dropped a big ball."
The Chattanooga mayor's office declined comment on Tuesday night. Chief Operations Officer Maura Sullivan told the Times Free Press last week that if the council reversed its approval, Farmer would be out of the job.
"Charter officials are required to be appointed under Section 8.33 of the charter by the mayor, with the approval of a majority vote of the council," Sullivan said by email to the Times Free Press. "Ms. Farmer would be required to vacate the position as city treasurer in the event that she does not have the approval of a majority of the city council or if she is discharged by the mayor pursuant to Section 8.33."
While removal would not disqualify Farmer from other city positions, Sullivan said hiring is limited due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
"To be clear, Ms. Farmer has not been found in violation of any law or misconduct. The lawsuit she is named in has not been resolved," Sullivan said. "She would be welcome, like anyone else, to apply for any jobs we have open. However, we are in a hiring freeze, so very few jobs are open now."
The mayor's office enlisted outside counsel to investigate the accusations against Farmer last week, but Councilman Darrin Ledford said Tuesday that vetting her now is too little too late.
"It perplexes me that no one, including the candidate, found it appropriate to disclose this information," Ledford wrote in a text message. "It's a matter of trust with such a vital position in our city."
Farmer has not returned voice messages from the Times Free Press.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.