Former Chattanooga City Councilman Larry Grohn was nearly prevented from running for school board this year because of missing campaign finance paperwork from his last run for office, when he unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2017.
Grohn received 4,941 votes in his run for mayor, losing to then-Mayor Andy Berke, who received 11,991 votes in his bid for a second term. Grohn's campaign failed to file the final paperwork from that effort, election officials informed him when he attempted to run for school board.
Grohn, seeking to run as a Republican from East Ridge in the newly partisan elections for school board, went before the Hamilton County Election Commission in January to try to sort the matter out.
"It is not pleasant for me to get in front of you and tell you I failed in my responsibilities as a candidate," Grohn told the commission at the meeting Jan 12.
The next day, Grohn filed the required paperwork, disclosing that the defunct mayoral campaign had a balance of $17,447, after spending $1,498 on an election night party at Puckett's restaurant.
Grohn will vie for the District 8 seat to represent East Ridge, Concord and Brainerd Hills. He will be the uncontested Republican candidate on the May 3 ballot. On Aug. 4, he will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Sandy Norris Smith and Katie Perkins.
Although Grohn disclosed the remaining mayoral campaign funds as required, Grohn told the commission he doesn't know where the leftover funds are, saying he left the state after the campaign as a result of a family matter and left the funds in the care of his former campaign manager, Dalton Temple, and former treasurer, Austin Sams.
Grohn told the commission that he had tried for six weeks to contact both and locate the funds but was unsuccessful.
"Mr. Temple is claiming I closed the account and absconded to another state with these funds. I'm contending that it's impossible for me to have closed this account down because I didn't even know what bank it is in, and it's not under my Social Security number," Grohn said at the Jan. 12 meeting.
"So, he's saying you took the money, and you're saying he took the money?" Chairman Michael Walden asked Grohn.
"I'm saying he had complete control, and I have to admit to my foolishness to put my complete trust in this individual. I never saw the checkbook. I never had a check register," Grohn responded.
In a statement to the commission, Temple said Grohn and his wife left for Texas after the campaign ended. He claimed Grohn told him in a phone call that Grohn had emptied the account and taken the funds. Temple also said he was never compensated for his services and is owed roughly $25,000.
"When Mr. Grohn was billed for the final invoice, he replied by email to state that I should have known I would only be paid if he had won, and that he would not pay the debt. In response, it was stated that he owed this money, and Mr. Grohn replied stating he would not pay. Since Mr. Grohn has started to contact me, he claims that I did the campaign for free. This is against the law and not something tat I could then or now agree to," Temple wrote in his statement.
Temple said in the letter that he had spoken with Election Commission officials in late 2017 after they had contacted him regarding the campaign disclosure paperwork. He told them Grohn had left him with "unpaid bills" and he did not know where Grohn had moved to in Texas. He said it wasn't until November 2021 when he heard again from Grohn, asking for help "clearing up" the financial disclosure for the mayoral campaign.
According to Temple's statement, Grohn's attorney, Joe Manuel, emailed him in December 2021 asking for copies of the campaign bank statements. Temple replied saying he did not have bank statements, the bank name, the bank account number nor access to the account "in any way."
Grohn asked the commission to involve the District Attorney's Office and the state Registry of Election Finance for further investigation. Commissioners voted unanimously to do so.
"I checked with that bank, and there is no account under my name, my wife's name, either of our Social Security numbers or a Committee to Elect Larry Grohn. There's no record at First Tennessee, First Horizon or at eight other banks," Grohn told election commissioners Jan. 12.
The DA turned the case over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which later returned findings to the DA for review.
"Our office reviewed the case and found no criminal wrongdoing. We also reported those findings to the TBI," DA Communications Director Bruce Garner said in an email, adding that all money had been accounted for.
Garner said the case is closed and there are no investigations ongoing into Grohn's mayoral campaign.
"I'm still missing around $16,000," Grohn told the Times Free Press.
Grohn said he left for Texas in June 2017 to "take care of some family business." According to him, the funds were drained without a trace after he moved.
"The account was zeroed out," he said. "And it was done in two transfers to checking accounts. And I don't know what bank they went to or who they went to."
Temple's attorney, Zac Greene, said Temple never touched the account.
"Mr. Temple denies any wrongdoing. And it is our understanding that the investigation has been closed and that no wrongdoing was identified," Greene said.
Temple currently manages the campaign of Virginia Anne Manson for the District 11 seat. She is a Republican from Lookout Mountain.
Grohn said he plans to pursue the matter in civil court following election season and believes he has a strong case.
The Times Free Press was unable to locate Sams for comment.