The most famously music industry-friendly mayor in America has resigned. Nashville’s highly popular Mayor Megan Barry stepped down from her position on Tuesday after pleading guilty to felony theft, a charge related to her extramarital affair with a former police bodyguard who was alleged to have received overtime pay for personal time he spent with Barry unrelated to city business.
Since the scandal erupted six weeks ago, Barry had repeatedly apologized and vowed to remain in office to pursue her agenda, which included an impending May public referendum on a mass transit plan designed to relieve congestion in one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. But after recent revelations of just how much bonus pay her ex-bodyguard, Sgt. Robert Forrest, had received, even supporters among Barry’s progressive Democratic base began urging her resignation.
Among those saddened by the scandal and resignation was country star Maren Morris. “I get why it had to be this way, but I’m very sad Megan Barry is resigning,” Morris tweeted Tuesday. “As the mayor of Music City, she always came to shows. Years ago, she and Sgt. Forrest helped me by taking care of a really terrifying stalker issue I had. I felt safer as an artist in Nashville.”
Barry, 54, Nashville’s first female mayor, was known as a fan as well as civic booster of the city’s diverse music scene. She had even helped celebrate Record Store Day by heading to Grimey’s, one of the best known independent record stores in the nation, to do a DJ set for the store, spinning tracks by personal favorites like Jason Isbell and Margo Price. Not long after becoming mayor in 2017, she celebrated her birthday by attending a John Prine show that was part of the annual Americana Festival. Her music boosterism crossed over into civic appointments, such as recently naming country star Dierks Bentley, a pilot, to the airport authority board.
As the Tennessean looked through logs of her activities to try to see when Forrest had accrued overtime pay for accompanying Barry, her engagement with the entertainment industry was a recurring theme. Among the events the newspaper noted the mayor attended last year were U2’s headlining set at Bonnaroo, a Loretta Lynn concert at the Ryman Auditorium, lunch with “Nashville” star Connie Britton, and a dinner at Brad Paisley’s home in Franklin.
In February, Barry kept an appointment to address the opening gathering of the annual Country Radio Seminar, addressing the fresh headlines before speaking to topical industry issues like the Music Modernization Act.
“I have to tell you, I have been pretty humbled over the last week,” she told the gathered country radio programmers, shortly after the news broke. “I haven’t slept a lot; kicked myself — made a big mistake. And I’m kind of reminded that oftentimes that’s what country music songs sound like. And I also know that the sun comes up—it did this morning, it’s going to do it again tomorrow morning, and I’m going to keep getting up and I’m going to keep getting up, and I’m going to keep doing the job I was put here to do, and I’m grateful for that.” Much of the room applauded. “I have a lot of work to do to earn your respect and your trust again, and I’m going to spend a lot of time doing that. I disappointed a lot of people, and I’m sorry.”
Barry also said during her CRS speech that the scandal paled alongside other events in her life. “This last week has been tough, but it wasn’t my worst day. My worst day happened about six months ago,” she said, referring to the fatal drug overdose last July of her adult son, which led her to join the national fight against opioids.
Soon after the scandal broke, a Vanderbilt poll found that 61 percent of the city’s residents still supported Barry, a reflection not only of the common wisdom that Nashville is “a blue dot in a red state,” but a sign that her pro-business reputation engendered support across the aisle. Initially, Barry had denied any legal wrongdoing, despite admitting the affair, which she said had ended previously. But support began to buckle as further details emerged, from the nude photos found on Forrest’s phone to the hundreds of hours of overtime he’d accrued, including on overseas trips. As part of a plea deal, Barry agreed to reimburse the city $11,000 as well as accept three years of unsupervised probation. Forrest agreed to pay the city back $45,000 as part of his separate plea.
“It has been the honor and it has been the privilege of my entire professional life to have had the blessing of this opportunity to be your mayor. I love you, Nashville,” Barry tweeted Tuesday. Vice Mayor David Briley, known as a liberal Democrat, was set to be sworn in as mayor early Tuesday evening. He, too, is behind the May 1 $5.4 billion light rail referendum that some see as critical to keeping the city from being choked by its nearly unchecked growth, which sees skyscrapers going up in every direction around urban Nashville. Briley is expected to run in the next mayoral election in August.