Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that Judge Frieberg ruled there was not evidence that Boyd made a threat. According to the agreed order for dismissal, signed by Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, Boyd's attorney Lee Davis and Judge Frieiberg, the case was dismissed "for good cause shown upon agreement of the state and the defendant." Updated Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, at 7:20 p.m.
It's easy to miss local and state news these days — what with all the impeachment and Iran headlines.
But occasionally we all need a deep-breath moment — a respite from the world to take in the sunshine that is Chattanooga, Hamilton County and Tennessee.
Some lost news; Commissioner Boyd cleared
Just before Christmas Judge Andrew Freiberg signed an order dismissing an attempted extortion charge against Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd — more than a year after a Hamilton County jury said it could not reach a verdict in the case.
You may remember the case. It was a election season scandal leading up to Hamilton County's May 1, 2018, Republican primary for the District 8 commission seat. The story went like this: The plain-spoken and incumbent Boyd was challenged by then-East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert. Lambert filed a complaint claiming that in February phone calls before the election, Boyd had "threatened" him over some campaign contributions.
It seemed that, as East Ridge mayor, Lambert had accepted $5,000 in donations in June 2017, including $3,000 from three developers working on the big Interstate 75 Exit 1 remodel and redevelopment in East Ridge. Lambert used the money to pay off part of a $9,100 debt to himself left over from his 2014 re-election campaign as East Ridge mayor, according to Lambert's financial disclosures. Lambert said Boyd threatened him to drop out of the race over those campaign contributions, and Lambert taped the conversations, releasing bits of them.
But Boyd said Lambert had called him, and that it was Lambert who raised the issue of the contributions.
"I didn't threaten him. I asked him to withdraw because I felt like what information was going to be disclosed may not be good for him, his family, his political aspirations or the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum [where Lambert was then president and CEO]," Boyd said at the time.
Boyd easily won the election, and eventually the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate the alleged threat. Hamilton County District Attorney Neil Pinkston took the case to trial in late 2018. Judge Frieberg of Bradley County (a special judge because all the Hamilton County judges had to recuse themselves) dismissed the extortion charge. Then one or more of the jurors had doubt about the second charge, attempted extortion. Eventually the jurors told the judge they were unable to reach a verdict. A mistrial was declared.
Fast-forward 14 months, and Judge Frieberg on Dec. 20 dismissed the second charge "for good cause shown ... upon agreement of the state and the defendant."
Needless to say, there were many headlines along the way about the case — and about the charges and accusations made about Boyd — a man who's no stranger to controversy, who's never quiet about what he doesn't like and who's known for being less than tactful.
So it's only fair now that Boyd get some headlines for having his name cleared — especially when that news got quietly lost in the shuffle of holidays, presidential impeachment and Middle East war drums.
We don't always agree — nor do we always disagree — with Boyd's grandstands or votes, but we believe fairness should win the day. Commissioner Boyd lived with this nebulous charge hanging over him for far too long. We're glad he finally received a resolution.
And some good state news
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday announced a first-of-its-kind, 12-week maximum, paid family-leave policy for Tennessee state workers who need time to care for a new baby after birth, adoption, starting foster care or providing care for a sick family member.
Lee's office says no other state has enacted such a policy "extending to the full spectrum" family and medical leave to its workers. In fact, only nine states have granted paid parental leave of some extent to their employees.
Family leave facts
› Paid family leave is a rarity for most employees across the U.S. with only 17% of employees having access to it.
› One additional month of paid family leave is associated with a 13% drop in infant mortality.
› Sixty nine percent of full-time working Americans believe receiving paid parental leave is important when looking for a job.
Source: Tennessee governor’s office
But according to the Lee administration, the Tennessee policy is a no-brainer intended to attract and retain "top talent." (It's also in line with a similar recent national initiative: In December, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation making 2.1 million civilian federal workers eligible for paid parental leave.)
That giant groan you hear is no doubt from scores of private sector businesses and local governments across the Volunteer State — all now feeling the pressure to adjust their own policies. The governor's office, however, stressed that the new state policy "will not impose any mandates on private sector or local government employers."
Will it cost Tennessee taxpayers more? Well, the beauty of that question is in the eye of the beholder: The state says no because Tennessee already budgets 100% of an employee's salary and benefits annually. Any employee who takes FMLA now has that portion of salary withheld, which reverts to agencies in the form of savings. Of course this begs the question of what pocket agency money will spring if not from "savings."
Time will tell, but either way we're with the Gov. Lee on this one. It's the right thing to do.