Millington Mayor Richard Hodges was arrested on bribery charges this afternoon. Millington is best know as the home of singer/actor Justin Timberlake, but for almost a year, the small town has been the target of a massive investigation into government corruption and the Shelby County District Attorney says that investigation will continue.
Over the past months, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation excavated papers from city hall and the mayor’s house, and dug a hole with a back-hoe outside Transmission Doctors, a Millington auto shop.
Initial search warrants were obtained based on an affidavit by Special Agent David Harmon of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. In the affidavit Harmon says that he interviewed a confidential informant who owns Transmission Doctors, an auto shop in Millington. The informant said gambling went on in his shop and Mayor Hodges took part. The typical stake was $5 to $10 a hand. The informant said Hodges became more than $10,000 in debt, then tried to extort money from him in exchange for a police badge.
The arrest of the mayor shocked and disappointed many, but not all. Millington resident Thomas McGhee sees promise in the scandal.
Thomas McGhee has long said Millington is the best kept secret in Shelby County. McGhee isn’t from Millington originally, but he says when he first saw Millington’s cozy little houses and huge trees, he fell in love. He started calling the town Mayberry after the idealized small town of the Andy Griffith Show. Ask McGhee how that view squares with the recent arrest and he says, “I hate to sound jaded but corruption is just so prevalent.”
He then rattles off a list of other government corruption scandals—starting with the Tennessee Waltz and ending with Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
“When you really look at how things work,” McGhee says, “every town is a small town having grown.”
Actually Millington isn’t like other small towns. The Human Resource Center for the entire U.S. Navy is located in Millington. The base brings people from all over the country, and the world, to the sleepy suburb of 11,000.
That diversity is not, however, reflected in the people who run the city. Millington has long been run, primarily, by a close-knit group of locals with old, family ties to the area. And if you press McGhee, he’ll tell you that he has long had concerns about some of the shadowy goings on in his Mayberry.
“We need to be more transparent. Really [I] don’t see how we can move forward with the current regime,” McGhee said.
Again, McGhee didn’t grow up in Millington. The navy brought him to town and he still works at the base, on Integrity Drive, just a few minutes away from city hall.
“We need Integrity Drive to extend out into the city of Millington. We don’t have an Integrity Drive in Millington,” McGhee said.
When he says that, McGhee is talking about the recent arrest and scandal, but he’s also talking about something more personal to himself.
“It was odd and it felt…unfair,” McGhee said.
Here’s what happened—after moving, McGhee became hyper-involved in his adopted community. He serves on three boards in town—the Industrial Development Board, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Millington Administrative Appeals Board. He’s a member of the PTA. He’s coached baseball and football. And he’s also pastor at Little John Baptist Church.
In 2008 McGhee decided to run for Millington alderman. It was a close race. McGhee lost and for a while that was that.
But then, early this year, a Millington Aldermen, Albert Hutcheson, passed away and it fell to the remaining aldermen to appoint a replacement.
Mayor Richard Hodges chose the procedure for the appointment. He said it was Hutcheson’s dying wish that it be done a particular way. McGhee was sitting in the chamber watching.
“That was the part that was really strange,” he said.
First, the aldermen passed a baseball cap around the room and each alderman drew a number from the hat.
The alderman who drew number one had a big advantage—he got to nominate first and the person who was nominated first, they voted on first. If the first nominee got 4 out of 6 votes, he got the job, and none of the other nominees would even be voted on.
The alderman who got number one nominated Bret Morgan, the son-in-law of a prominent realtor in town. The alderman who got number two nominated Leanna Dagen a woman who said she had spent 18 years volunteering in Millington’s schools. Someone asked how to spell her name. McGhee was the fourth nomination.
“I knew the opportunity for me to serve was not going to come about because of the way it was set up,” he said.
As McGhee suspected, Bret Morgan, the first nominee, got four votes, and he got the position.
“That was horrible,” McGhee said. “I was really not happy. And I was not happy that the citizens didn’t get to pick the person that would fill that seat. Because they had voted. And they voted for me.”
Despite his disappointment at that moment and over arrest of Mayor Hodges, McGhee remains hopeful that the ongoing investigation will bring new light and a new day to Millington government. After all, McGhee has long said of Millington, “It is one of the best kept secrets in Shelby County if not Tennessee.”
Now he says it with a wink.