Convention center invoice discussion yields little insight

Monday, August 17, 2009 at 11:44pm

It may be some time before questions surrounding invoices turned in by Nashville’s largest public relations firm for its work on the proposed convention center project get answered.

Metro Council held a public discussion of the invoices on Monday and key players were on hand to answer a series of questions. The senior partners at the public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox all attended the meeting, just hours after stepping down from the communications contract that started the firestorm.

District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson, who on Aug. 6 was the first official to call for the independent audit and a public meeting on the issue, pressed MP&F executives on whether they lobbied Council members earlier this year when land acquisition legislation was being considered. McNeely, Pigott & Fox partner Mike Pigott denied the claim adamantly.

MDHA Director Phil Ryan also answered questions, although his answer was often met with a promise to get back to Council members at a later date.

District 23 Councilwoman Emily Evans pressed Ryan on MDHA’s procurement practices and questioned whether the agency was in the wrong by creating open-ended contracts after contractors had exceeded the maximum caps set out in the original deals. Besides the communications contract, MDHA has also set new caps for the financial advising, hotel consulting and building management contracts.

Metro Finance Director Richard Riebeling began the meeting by apologizing for not providing more oversight to invoices turned into the Metro Development and Housing Agency by the public relations firm.

In fact, the meeting was mostly uneventful, apart from a somewhat heated exchange between Riebeling and District 22 Councilman Eric Crafton.

At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said the meeting was unnecessary since many of the logical steps to remedy the situation created by the PR firm billing Metro for $458,000 had already been taken.

Steine admitted he was concerned by the fact the original communications contract was for just $75,000, but he said Council members who asked the most questions were merely against the convention center project and had a political ax to grind.

“What we’re doing in there is we’re grinding an ax into a situation in which the remedies are already in place,” Steine said.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Karl Dean called for an independent audit of the invoices pertaining to communications work in addition to other invoices turned in for predevelopment work for Music City Center. Apart from McNeely, Pigott & Fox resigning, Council will also consider at its meeting tonight a resolution to create a new Metro board to oversee development of the convention center.

“If you take every single question and word as being correct, and I’m not saying they are, what would you do to fix the situation?” Steine asked. “The PR firm would quit — they did. You would have an independent audit, which has been called for. And third, you would put in place a better group that is more responsive, more transparent and will create more information for the Council.

“So all those fixes are there before us, and this is sort of the last gasp of, ‘Let’s see if we can take this ax and grind it further through people’s skulls on their way out the door.’”

Crafton began the meeting with a long-winded speech in which he said Metro ought to use general obligation bonds to finance the $635 million project. During his speech, Riebeling shook his head in disagreement, which caused Crafton to snap.

At-large Councilman Tim Garrett, who chaired the open discussion, was able to restore order.

No time frame has been set for beginning the independent audit, although the mayor’s office has indicated it would begin in the near future. So far MDHA has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities for Music City Center. The funds come from tourism taxes and fees created by Council last year.

Council also approved $75 million in tourism taxes for MDHA to begin land acquisition in SoBro, which is the proposed site for the project.

Riebeling said a financing package for the convention center will be in front of Council in the coming months.

 

14 Comments on this post:

By: sidneyames on 8/18/09 at 6:13

No time frame has been set for beginning the independent audit, although the mayor’s office has indicated it would begin in the near future. What does "near future" mean? How about immediately - before anything else goes forward.

By: producer2 on 8/18/09 at 6:18

Will the head clown please call the roll..... Jamison...present. Evans...I'm here..... Crafton.......Crafton.....CRAFTON.. oh,sorry I am here, I was busy flip flopping again.

Can someone put this clown out of his misery....

By: govskeptic on 8/18/09 at 7:05

I see producer2 is still on the $285 hr. project. Some of the questions and comments last evening were or should be embarrasing to the makers. Especially those of Mr. McNeely and even more so by the totally incompetent Councilwoman from this district, Mrs. Langster. According to her it's just a bookkeeping error, and that both the PR firm and Mr. Ryan are to be exempt from any hard feelings about this rip off.
The Committee Chair seemed in a hurry to get this off the TV screen as quick as he could so the public wouldn't notice the lack of answers coming from those being questioned. This is just the start folks!

By: sidneyames on 8/18/09 at 7:22

Producer2 I suppose you'd rather we over spend on every project? Govskeptic, you are so right and Mrs. Langster has her head up in the clouds for even saying such a stupid statement "bookkeeper error". Yeah, the bookkeeper is a lot richer for that experience! Or someone else is.

By: sidneyames on 8/18/09 at 7:23

Producer2 I suppose you'd rather we over spend on every project? Govskeptic, you are so right and Mrs. Langster has her head up in the clouds for even saying such a stupid statement "bookkeeper error". Yeah, the bookkeeper is a lot richer for that experience! Or someone else is.

By: sidneyames on 8/18/09 at 7:24

sorry for double post!

By: lisaleeds2008 on 8/18/09 at 9:14

Time to stop this madness

Dear Elected Official,

It is time to stop this madness do not build the Music City Center...

Vote against RESOLUTION NO. RS2009-881

http://www.nashville.gov/mc/resolutions/term_2007_2011/rs2009_881.htm

We need to stop this madness now. We the people of the city of Nashville do not need this high priced Music City Center.

Kind Regards
Lisa Leeds

By: Kosh III on 8/18/09 at 9:18

sydney said: "No time frame has been set for beginning the independent audit, although the mayor’s office has indicated it would begin in the near future. What does "near future" mean? How about immediately - before anything else goes forward."

You do realize this audit is just to stall for time and hope everyone forgets about this?

By: pandabear on 8/18/09 at 10:05

Lisa,
You're totally right, but where do we get the "say so" in this.
I think the point is, like Kosh points out, that Karl Deano is
trying to get whatever he wants, any way we can, regardless of
what's good for the city.

What vote ?!?

By: pandabear on 8/18/09 at 10:07

"...any way HE can..."

By: JeffF on 8/18/09 at 12:46

"near future" huh? That is the same date being given for the financing package. They wouldn't wait to do the audit until after the boards has to vote on that piddly little thing would they?

By: Time for Truth on 8/18/09 at 1:14

This massive project continues to have a bad odor to it. A massive expensive bad odor.

By: nashbeck on 8/18/09 at 1:30

Build the Music City Center.

By: JeffF on 8/18/09 at 3:03

You left out "need" again beck. Come on tell everyone that we need this thing so I can end the day on a fun note again.