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Ford Confronts Ethics Allegations, As New Documents Released

(Story created: 3/16/05)

Wednesday, state Sen. John Ford faced an ethics investigation head-on. As the Senate's ethics committee met to plot its next step, the powerful Senate chairman showed up with lawyers in tow.

Instead of waiting to be formally served with charges, the Memphis Democrat entered the hearing room, ready to fight back.

And he got his wish, swearing to tell the truth in his own defense.

The questions focus on Ford financial ties with TennCare figure Ron Dobbins... and a consulting firm that helped a company to land a big TennCare contract.

"For me to sit here and to be accused of violating the ethics rules is beyond me."

Ford made no mention of his use of campaign funds for a daughter's wedding.

And it was an issue the committee chose not to tackle.

"Consulting was not listed one year," noted Ethics Committee Chairman Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Committee members even suggested if he'd just put the word "consulting" on disclosure reports, that would have been good enough for the Senate's rules.

"I simply omitted one time that simple word," Ford told the committee.

That's when the man who filed the complaint against Ford demanded to be heard.

"I'm the chairman," Ramsey injected at one point.

"I'm a citizen," Barry Schmittou retorted, "and we don't get much of a chance in our state."

Schmittou wanted to question Ford about ties between his consulting company and TennCare.

"Any contracts between Managed Care Services Group and any other state agency or department?" asked Sen. Curtis Person, R-Memphis.

"Absolutely not," Ford replied.

What committee members did not ask was about Ford's business with TennCare providers that come before his committee.

***

Meanwhile, new documents raise more questions about Ford's efforts on behalf of another consulting client.

They suggest Ford was pushing Tennessee State University president James Hefner to sign a contract with heat-and-air giant Johnson Controls.

Hefner sent word to state Board of Regents chancellor Charles Manning to ask for help in saying, "no."

An aide to Manning wrote, "President Hefner has requested that we write this letter to assist him in declining the ... contract."

***

As the Senate chairman left the hearing room, the committee left unanswered questions about his fate, along with a citizen's question:

"Every senator swears an oath to uphold the constitution. I pray that will happen. I'm not sure it's going to."

The committee took the ethics complaint against Ford under advisement.

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