The newest member of the Franklin City Council has resigned, just four days after he was appointed, after the public and Republican Party leaders learned he was facing a criminal charge of domestic battery.
Stephen R. Brown resigned on Monday evening, noting that it became apparent that his appointment to the city council created bad publicity and interfered with the progress the council accomplished, he wrote in his letter.
The president of the city council and a precinct committee member who cast a ballot in the caucus had both called for his resignation.
Brown was arrested in September 2016 and charged with domestic battery after an incident at his home. The criminal case is still pending, and Brown said he has completed the requirements of a pretrial diversion program that will allow him to avoid a criminal conviction. The matter is set for a hearing later this month.
But whether the Johnson County Republican Party leaders, and the precinct committee members who selected him in a caucus last week, knew about the arrest and criminal charge and whether it would have changed their appointment of him became an issue after the incident came to light at the end of the week. Residents questioned why a person accused of domestic battery was the best candidate for city council, an elected position that makes decisions about the city, including the funding of the police department that arrested him.
“I apologize for the negative environment this has created,” Brown wrote in his resignation letter. “This was not my intention when deciding to serve. I wish the Council continued success in the improvement of the City of Franklin.”
He was initially arrested on charges of criminal confinement and domestic battery, but was only charged with domestic battery, a misdemeanor. The police report taken the night of the incident said he confined his girlfriend in the bathroom of his home for up to an hour, pushing her and refusing to allow her to leave and threatening to keep her in the small room for days, in a jealous episode over a text message and a hug she had received. He was demanding her phone passcode, and keeping her phone away from her.
She fought him to try to escape and he eventually let her out and she called police, the report said. He told police the night of his arrest that he had pushed her several times, the report said. Pretrial diversion programs also typically require the defendant to acknowledge the crime they committed.
On Friday, he said he did not push, shove or hit her.
City council president Ken Austin said Brown is his friend and is his insurance agent, and he knew about the arrest, but thought the matter had been handled. He said he was somewhat shocked to learn the matter was still pending. He did not have a vote in the caucus, but talked to residents who could vote, and the public, and decided that he should ask for Brown’s resignation so that the city could move forward.
“I felt as a friend and as the leader of the council, I needed to step up and ask Steve for his resignation,” Austin said. “I felt that was the right thing to do.”
Brown resigned immediately, Austin said.
“It’s unfortunate that evening happened,” Austin said, referring to the domestic violence incident. “We are gonna move forward and have another caucus.”
Earlier in the day, precinct committee member Kirby Cochran wrote in a letter to Austin, Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Boyce and Mayor Steve Barnett that he was concerned that Brown had not disclosed his arrest prior to the caucus vote and asked that Brown resign.
“I feel like in the end he should have disclosed that, and the decision may or may not have been made differently,” Cochran said.
“As a police officer, I don’t condone violence of any nature,” Cochran said. He is a longtime Johnson County sheriff’s deputy and is a candidate for sheriff this year.
Barnett, who also did not have a vote in the caucus, said he did not know about the arrest and was disappointed to learn about the incident and thought it should have been disclosed before the vote. He said that Brown made the right choice for the city by resigning.
Boyce also said she was not aware of Brown’s arrest
The city council had an opening because Joe Ault resigned his District 1 seat in January after public outcry over a post he shared on Facebook that made derogatory remarks about certain countries, Democrats and votes.
The Republican Party is responsible for conducting a caucus to fill vacancies on the city council until the next election. Brown was selected by the six Republican Party precinct committee members for District 1 on the city council. The other candidates were a local attorney, a deputy prosecutor and a retired sheriff’s deputy.
The party will now organize another caucus to replace Brown. Ault had represented District 1 and his term ends at the end of 2019.