Action News 5 Investigates: Where is Ophelia Ford - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andrew Douglas

Action News 5 Investigates: Where is Ophelia Ford

Ophelia Ford Ophelia Ford

Tennessee State Senator Ophelia Ford is no stranger to controversy.  After narrowly winning her senate in a run-off election after her brother, John Ford, resigned, she was ousted by fellow legislators amidst concerns of voter fraud.

Ford fought hard to win the seat back, and won it outright last November.

Now, dozens of state records show that when the Tennessee Senate calls roll, more often than not, Senator Ophelia Ford is not there to respond.  Using excuses that include, "unexpected circumstances"," medical reasons", " health issues," and, "unexpected flight delay," Ford missed 18 out of 29 legislative days this year.

Tennessee taxpayers pick up the tab for Ford's flights between Memphis and Nashville, which is allowed by Senate rules.  Specifically, senators that live over 100 miles from Nashville are allowed to fly in for work, but asked to book the cheapest flights possible.  Although she has worked only 11 legislative days this year, Ford's travel expenses of over $4,400 are more than any other Tennessee lawmaker.

Ford's travel costs are as varied as her excuses.  She worked just one day the first full week of March, from the 4th to the 10th, and charged the state $829.81 for travel.  Later that month, from March 18th to the 24th, taxpayers paid $704.81 for Ford to work two legislative days.  The next week, from March 25th to April 1st, travel for two days cost $352.40.

Action News 5's Andrew Douglas recently attempted to visit Ford at her district office in Memphis to find out why she missed so many days.  Ford's office, located in an apartment on Mud Island, is behind a private gate and is inaccessible to the public.

On the day Douglas visited, Ford was there, but wouldn't open the door.  "No sir, you cannot come into my home," she said through the door.  "You cannot come into my home and ask me questions."

"This was the address of your district office?" Douglas asked.

"Absolutely, it is," Ford replied.

According to the Tennessee Senate schedule, Ford was supposed to be in session in Nashville at the time of Andrew Douglas' visit.  She said she would be willing to talk on camera the next day in Nashville.  "If you want to ask me tomorrow while I'm in Nashville, then you can ask my anything you want," she said through the door.

The next day in Nashville, Ford was no where to be found.  "The senator told us to come here today, and we're just trying to meet up with her before the committee meeting," Andrew Douglas said to one of Ford's staffers.

"She's not in right now," the staffer replied.

In a statement, Ophelia Ford said her absences are caused by a "severe case of anemia," a common blood disorder.  Action News 5 tried repeatedly to talk to Ford about her condition.  No one, including Ford, her colleagues, family, and friends, would talk about her condition.

According to Dr. Robert Johnson, a hematologist with The West Clinic, a person with anemia can work a normal schedule.  "Some one with a severe case of anemia," Andrew Douglas asked, "Do you think that they can go to work and work a 40 hour week?"

"Oh yeah," Johnson replied. "The man I just saw this morning, who had less than a third of the normal blood, has been working 40 hours."

Senator Ford hasn't worked 40 hours a week in Nashville in months, yet she still charges more than any other lawmaker to get the job done. 

Lawmakers that spoke to Andrew Douglas said its hard for any legislator to get anything done with so many absences. 

Ford's absences were approved by Tennessee's Lieutenant Governor, who recently issued a statement asking Tennessians to keep her in their thoughts and prayers.

To compare Tennessee lawmaker travel and per diem reimbursement, click here.

To look at Ophelia Ford's work history for the current lawmaking session, click here.

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