A Hendersonville alderman contemplating a bid for state office says he was threatened by the county’s administrator of elections last week for a vote he made as a member of the Hendersonville Regional Planning Commission.

Ward 5 Alderman Darrell Woodcock was one of four members who voted Oct. 8 against adding a car wash as a permitted use for a piece of property on New Shackle Island Road owned by Sumner County Administrator of Elections Lori Atchley.

The measure failed after Woodcock, who represents the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen on the planning commission, appeared to have changed his vote on the project.

About 10 minutes after the Zoom meeting ended, Woodcock received a text from Atchley at 9:30 p.m.  

“Darrell… this is Lori…what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Well Hello Lori. Did you send this to everyone that voted against it or just me,” Woodcock responded.

“Payback is hell”

“Wait for it,” wrote Atchley.

“Why would there be payback Am I missing something?”

“You are that stupid…yes,” she said.

“Very professional. I’m sorry that you are upset but threatening me does nothing for your cause. Simply make improvements and resubmit,” said Woodcock.

“I will go well above your seat,” Atchley texted.

“I wish you luck in your endeavors,” the alderman responded.  

Atchley sent a text apologizing to Woodcock early the next day.

“I owe you an apology,” she wrote in a text sent at 7:04 a.m. “I have spent months working with planning and the better part of the day yesterday and thought I had addressed everything. I was just frustrated and angry. That is no excuse to take anything out on you. Again, my sincerest apology.”

Woodcock says he sent the text thread to Hendersonville Planning Director Keith Free that night and asked if they could be added into the minutes of the planning commission meeting.

“We can’t put a text that was not part of the public meeting in the minutes,” Free said via text message the next day.

“OK, How do you normally handle applicants threatening Commission members?” Woodcock asked.

“I have not had that happen before,” Free responded. He then said he’d talk to City Attorney John Bradley and get his opinion.

Later in the day, Free said he consulted with Bradley.

“It looks like options would be limited with this not occurring within the meeting itself,” said Free. “You could report the issue to the police if you are concerned for your safety or would wish to do so.”

Woodcock says he’s notified Sumner County Election Commission Chairman M. Allen Ehmling as well.

“I just want it public so that if something happens or if she’s ever done it before there will be a record of it,” said Woodcock. “I’m just shocked that it happened.”

Woodcock, who was elected alderman in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, is not seeking a third term. He said that he has made it known within the local Republican party, however, that he may be interested in running for state representative should a new seat be created following the 2020 census.

He believes Atchley was threatening to use her position should he run for office again. 

“She’s not my mom, my wife or my boss so how else could she pay me back other than with her job?” he said. “I enjoy public service. I may choose to do something in the future and now I have to worry about the administrator of elections retaliating.”

Atchley: Texts had nothing to do with politics

Atchley, who was appointed Administrator of Elections in November of 2011, said she immediately apologized for sending the texts, and that they weren’t meant to threaten Woodcock.

“I should have known better but I was frustrated because I spent so much time and effort [on this project.] It has nothing to do with me being administrator of elections,” she said. “That was a personal matter on a personal zoning.”

Atchley, who also served on the Hendersonville planning commission for 10 years under Mayor Scott Foster, says she didn’t know of Woodcock’s intentions to seek higher office.

“I didn’t know that,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t a personal threat. It had nothing to do with politics.”

Atchley said she was frustrated with the way the vote to approve or deny the car wash use was handled and said Woodcock appeared to change his vote.

During the meeting, a motion was made to deny the use. Woodcock was one of five members to vote against denial. Although the motion to deny failed 3 to 5, members were asked to vote again. This time the language was to approve the use. Woodcock voted no on that vote causing the measure to fail 4 to 4.

Free said on Tuesday that it’s not typical for members to take a negative vote like a motion to deny.

“We needed a motion to approve to help clarify what they voted on,” Free said. “There needed to be a cleaner vote.”

When the second vote was taken it was mentioned that there were several comments from staff that hadn’t been agreed to by the applicant, Free added.

Woodcock said he was for allowing a car wash, but voted no a second time because he didn’t think Atchley fully addressed the staff’s concerns.

Atchley said that when she texted Woodcock that she would ‘go above your seat’ she meant that she would appeal the decision to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The full Board of Mayor and Aldermen will consider the issue at their meeting on Oct. 27, according to Free.

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