Perhaps one of my greatest disappointments from Pulaski would have to be my experiences with the Harwell family. Terry and Vicky Harwell, two of the most notorious names in modern Pulaski history, come off as nice enough upon first introduction. Terry comes off as a good ol’ boy who just wants everyone to like him, while his wife, Vicky, portrays herself as a breath of fresh air from the conservative system built around the town. You could know them for years without having spoken to anyone else and reasonably assume that they are good people with the best interests of the town at heart. However, when one starts peeling back the layers of onion, the stench becomes hard to ignore.
Both Terry and Vicky Harwell were elected officials in Giles County. Terry represented his district located within the city limits of Pulaski on the Board of Commissioners, whereas Vicky was a voice to be reckoned with as an Alderman for the city of Pulaski. Terry seemed more eager to go along to get along, whereas Vicky could ruffle a feather or two in order to push through her agendas. So when this “power couple” decided that Vicky should run for mayor, no one was surprised, and although there were a fair share of critics, it was commonly considered that she would win.
The comparisons between Vicky Harwell and Hillary Clinton could begin here. But for reference, she was a delegate for Clinton’s failed presidential campaign in 2008, which makes it all the more fitting.
Harwell started off decently enough, differentiating herself from her main opponent, Pat Ford. Ford was widely considered to be a crony for the powers that be in the city and had no discernible skills from his advisory position at Martin Methodist College that would translate to public office. It was rather interesting how those who more or less controlled the city wouldn’t back the career politician and instead went with someone who, although a very nice man, didn’t really seem to understand the position he was running for. Or, to put it in more current terms, the woman running for office who knew how to perform the essential functions of the position ran against a man with no experience in politics. Sound familiar?
It did not seem to take long for Vicky to lose steam in the election. Although I had lied to Pat Ford about my intentions to vote for him (sorry, Pat, but I still like you), I was still strongly behind Vicky. After all, Democrats have to stick together when surrounded by insane conservatives who think Obama is a Muslim, right?
Enter Bob Hughes. Bob is not a normal man by any means, but neither is anyone else in the entire town. Objectively, who is normal? But I digress. All Bob wanted was to open his Punk ‘N Blues bar right off of the square of town. However, due to alcohol signage laws that restricted him advertising his main selling product from his business front, he was forced to close and was never able to successfully reopen. He attempted to take issue with the ordinances with both former mayor Dan Speer as well as the aldermen, specifically Vicky Harwell.
For months, and even years, Bob was accused of harassing the elected officials in the town due to his persistence to change the laws in the town he found to be unfair. Knowing Bob as well as I did, he likely rubbed them the wrong way through no fault of his own, simply because he was an outsider wanting to change how things were done. And that’s what happens in this town: when someone not originally from the town sees something wrong and tries to change it, they are ostracized and outcast, frozen out of the job market, and subsequently forced to relocate. If Bob is still in Pulaski, it is only because of pure determination that the town doesn’t beat him at their game.
On October 21, 2010, the Pulaski Chamber of Commerce held their annual chili cookoff. Usually you must apply to be a formal contestant in the cookoff, but businesses neighboring the square will often informally participate by having their own chili or even just passing out candy to kids passing by. The law firm on the southeastern part of the square, owned by Vicky’s son, Chris Williams, was one of these businesses. The Harwell’s set up shop with their own chili in order to promote Vicky Harwell for Mayor.
Bob Hughes was also at the chili cookoff, video camera in hand. At first, he claims to have just been taking in the action, but it became apparent that there were some violations of the fire code at hand, specifically with the Harwell’s unauthorized chili venture. Bob recorded the violations, codes in hand, and was then shoved down by Terry Harwell.
The video, which cuts off in the middle due to the physical altercation, shows Vicky Harwell refusing to speak to Bob Hughes and directing her husband, Terry, to “take care of him”. Terry, in turn, proceeded to knock Bob into the street and slung various insults, including calling him a “faggot”. The Harwell’s daughter, Katie, can be seen intervening, stating “My husband is a United States soldier, and you’re being a jerk right now,” as to excuse the behavior exhibited by her parents.
I did not know about this incident until after the cookoff was over. When Vicky explained to me what happened, I was in shock. She had made it seem like she was attacked by Bob, which seemed unlikely, and that because of his video camera, “he can make it seem like whatever he wants.” As a friend of Bob’s, I was not entirely convinced by her side of the story and instead just dismissed it out of my mind. After all, I did know these guys had a history.
As luck should have it, Bob came to find me the next day, video disc in hand. He explained to me that he was in the process of getting a news piece done on the incident, but because of this, he could not share the video with anyone until it happened. Instead, he provided me the video and asked me to look at it and do with it what I felt was right.
I watched the video. It was the same video as the one I posted above. Although I could see that Terry was obviously in the wrong, I could not say the same for Vicky. Sure, she summoned her husband to deal with what she felt was an impossible situation for her to win, and knowing Bob, I am sure she had reason to feel that way. But could she have known that Terry would react violently? I would choose to believe she is smart enough to understand that something like this could, and did, adversely affect her chances of becoming mayor and therefore would attempt to avoid such a scene. Knowing Terry as well as any Giles Countian could, I expect his hot head got the best of him, because even being recorded didn’t stop him from putting his foot deep down his throat.
Having seen the video, I believed that people had a right to see the events as they occurred. I posted the video on YouTube and provided copies to various individuals, including Pat Ford. My intent was not to sabotage a candidate who I still voted for, but rather to allow people to be pissed at the right person: her husband.
Gee, a woman running for office is plagued by a husband who is accused of assaulting people and says stupid things on the fly. Sound familiar?
Of course, Vicky didn’t see it that way. And when Bob pushed for an investigation, I was actually mentioned during a police interview with Vicky. Her accounts during the 45 minute interrogation did not match up with the events as they occurred on the video, which can be seen below. Jump to 21:40 for the segment where I’m mentioned by name.
Vicky was cordial to me after the interview, perhaps thinking I would never figure out how she tried to throw me under the bus to escape the possibility that she actually watched a viral video she was a part of! I later told her my intentions related to the video, to which I doubt she believed me. She of course lost the race as a result of the incident to Pat Ford, who turned out to not be that bad as a do nothing mayor.
However, because of the embarrassment caused from the spectacle, many of those who controlled the town, including the wife to former mayor Speers, Brenda, claimed they would find “anyone” to run against her in her reelection bid for alderman in two years.
That turned out never to happen. Instead, I turned to a man who was a ZM for Walmart in the neighboring state to put his hat in the ring just to see what happened. Originally on the ballot as a State Representative candidate, Adam Braeback decided upon my advice that his best chance to be elected to any office was to run for Alderman. That year, three seats were up for election, and there were only four candidates, including Adam and Vicky. Adam literally did nothing and likely sat at home on election day upset that Barack Obama had won and gave no care to his own race. But enough people despised Vicky Harwell at the time that he nearly won. He nearly won by doing nothing.
A highly qualified yet controversial woman running for the highest office in the land loses to an inexperienced white guy. Again, sound familiar?
Terry would give up his seat on the County Commission, possibly due to falling reelection prospects. But don’t despair: this homophobe was able to use his political connections in the county to land himself a very nice paying job in the Financial Management Office. He gets to spend his days deciding who gets contracts from the county. Pay for play, maybe? And Vicky? She is still an alderman. Her seat was up for reelection this year and came in second out of three candidates running for three seats, which means she’ll remain in power for another four years.
I liked the Harwells. They were a shining star in a town cast as a black stain on America. But then they proved to be just like everyone else in that rat hole town. Thanks.
Next time on Klantown: Martin Methodist College