Thursday, February 1, 2007

Former Republican leader/legislator Tre Hargett Leaves Memphis; Mentioned in "Waltz" Tapes

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Former state representative and House Republican leader Tre Hargett is moving from Bartlett to Knoxville to be vice-president of Tennessee operations for Rural Metro corporation.

Nikki Gast, spokeswoman for Rural Metro, confirmed a report first published this week in the Knoxville weekly newspaper Metro Pulse. She said Hargett has been working in Knoxville "for a while" but also spends time in Memphis. His previous title was head of community affairs for Rural Metro.

Hargett, a University of Memphis graduate and former chairman of the Shelby County Young Republicans, was a star of the Republican Party, rising to a leadership position while he was in his mid-30s. His career took a turn, however, when his name came up in secretly recorded tapes made in 2004 in the Tennessee Waltz investigation.

Undercover FBI agent Joe Carroll, posing as "Joe Carson," head of E-Cycle Management, appeared to be targeting Hargett in a conversation with former Hamilton County school board member Charles Love.

"I want to make sure Tre hasn’t got cold feet," says 'Carson.' "I mean, we did something for Tre."

On the tape, Love says the legislation favoring E-Cycle should be introduced by representative Chris Newton and Hargett. Love also says Hargett "has got a sweetheart deal with Shelby County" for ambulance service.

Love and Newton were subsequently indicted and convicted of bribery.

Hargett, who did not return calls seeking comment, has previously told The Commercial Appeal that he did nothing wrong and resented the use of his name by Love and FBI agents in the investigation.

In August of 2005, four months after Tennessee Waltz broke, Hargett announced that he was resigning to take a job as a lobbyist with Pfizer, a drug company that lobbies the Tennessee General Assembly. While serving in the legislature, Hargett sponsored legislation on disclosure of business interests, ethics reform, and combating fraud in Tenn-Care. His decision to go to work for Pfizer was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans as an example of "revolving-door" politics and poor decision making. Hargett changed his mind a few weeks later and decided to stay with Rural Metro.

Rural Metro is a publicly held corporation based in Scottsdale, Arizona. It provides ambulance transportation and fire protection to municipalities in several states, including more than 80 clients in Tennessee. Among them is Shelby County government.

Rural Metro is in the news in Memphis because Shelby County is trying to improve its ambulance response rate and keep Germantown and other suburbs from breaking away and negotiating their own ambulance deals. Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton told the Flyer that the renegotiations have nothing to do with Tennessee Waltz.

"We are coming up on the renewal date and, having tired of the overall complaints about EMS and the absence of performance-based measures in the existing contract, I felt it time to try to cure the matter once and for all," he said in an e-mail. "If those concerns existed in any quarters they did not reach me. I could certainly understand how such concerns could 'spook' public officials, but that was not the case with me."

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