Resignation of state representative could have high price tag for taxpayers

Resignation of state representative could have high price tag for taxpayers
Published: Feb. 14, 2017 at 3:40 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2017 at 6:10 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - An elected Tennessee state representative resigned his position just a month and a half after starting it. Now, his resignation brings a big price tag for taxpayers.

Tennessee State Representative Mark Lovell won District 95's seat in the November 2016 election, but now he's stepping down amid allegations that he groped a woman at a legislative reception in Nashville.

By stepping down, Lovell made it so the allegations could not be investigated by the state legislature.

"We need to know what happened," Rep. Mike Stewart said. "We need to protect the identity of the victim. But still can have a complete investigation."

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she takes sexual assault allegations very seriously. She could not say if an investigation had been launched into the alleged groping incident, but she did say that because of Lovell's resignation, she no longer has jurisdiction to continue or start an investigation.

Now a replacement will need to be chosen to fill the vacated seat.

"I'm just extremely disappointed that we are faced with this," Shelby County Commissioner Mark Billingsley said.

Shelby County Commissioners are in a bind because of the resignation, but it may also leave Collierville, Germantown, and east Shelby County in one as well.

"I would be concerned as citizens that I don't have representation," Commission Chairman Melvin Burgess said.

For the short term, commissioners can appoint someone to fill Lovell's seat. But, the process requires broadcasting the vacancy and taking applications.

"We are talking a month and a half at the short end," Commissioner Heidi Shafer said.

"Quite frankly, if we choose to appoint someone this legislative session may be over with before we get someone appointed," Billingsley said.

Wednesday, county attorney Kathryn Pascover told commissioners a special election must be held because more than a year remains on the term.

The Shelby County Election Commission said the cost for a special election is at least $120,000. Those funds can be reimbursed by the state.

Governor Bill Haslam must issue a writ ordering a special election within 20 days of the resignation.

Lovell was the newest member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. He beat Curry Todd in a hotly contested Republican Primary race that included Todd getting arrested for trashing Lovell's campaign signs.

WSMV reports Lovell never completed the sexual harassment video training session offered to state representatives. The video training was supposed to be completed by January 31, but Lovell's training certificate was never received.

Lovell told WMC Action News 5 that he was resigning because of the time requirements of the job that would keep him away from his business and his family. He called it a difficult decision and apologized to the public for resigning.

"Earlier today I submitted a letter of resignation to The Speaker of the House, Honorable Beth Harwell, to resign my seat serving the 95th House District in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

This was a tremendously difficult decision. I can only hope everyone who placed their trust in me to represent them in the State Legislature including all my constituents, neighbors, family and friends can accept my sincerest apology for having to resign at this time.

Over the past few months, it has become evident to me that I was not fulfilling the promise I made to myself and my family to continue to be available to my family needs both physically and mentally. While I am extremely disappointed that at this time I do not feel I have the capacity to serve my constituents and represent them to the best of my abilities while also giving my family the attention they deserve, I must choose to focus on my family and myself at this time.

Again, I am extremely grateful for all of the trust the great people in my district have placed in me and I apologize greatly for not being able to fulfill my campaign promises to them.

Regarding any sexual harassment allegations, I stand by my statement that no improprieties happened and the allegations are completely false.

So that I may begin focusing on my family, any further inquiries need to be directed to Valerie Morris, my communications representative."

Below you can read Lovell's official resignation letter:

It has been an honor to be elected and to serve in the Tennessee House of Representatives. However, the time requirements to represent my constituents are more demanding than anticipated. Thus, I do not have the time necessary to devote to my business interests and to my family. It has become evident that I cannot devote the time I need to my elected position.

Therefore, I am resigning, effective today, February 14th. This will allow time for Shelby County to appoint an interim member to represent the citizens of the 95th House District.

Lovell addressed the sexual harassment allegations by saying, "I stand by my statement that no improprieties happened and the allegations are completely false."

Lovell's campaign website states that he and his wife, Linda, have been married for 29 years. They have three children together.

Lovell represents District 95 which includes eastern Shelby County, Germantown, and Collierville.

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