Metro Councilman Rip Ryman says Darden Copeland, the paid public relations force behind the push to save the Metro-owned fairgrounds and racetrack, should register as a lobbyist with the Metro Clerk’s Office.
Copeland, the subject of a recent City Paper story, heads a group called Save My Fairgrounds Inc., which has evolved into the communications arm for Nashvillians hoping to preserve the fairgrounds in its current form.
Late Thursday, Copeland distributed a news release in response to a story reported by The City Paper that four new council members have sponsored legislation that would keep the state fair and expo center at the 117-acre fairgrounds but demolish the property’s racetrack. The additions bring the number of bill sponsors to nine.
The release, in part, read:
“Even before the December 21st first reading of their bill and a January 10th public hearing, Council members Jim Forkum, Walter Hunt, Kristine LaLonde and Parker Toler have signaled their intention to vote in favor of tearing down the Nashville Speedway and discontinuing the Tennessee State Fair and Expo business. The hasty move by these Council members shows they have no interest in holding a public hearing, and have little respect for the views and opinions of the public. Like most Nashvillians, Save My Fairgrounds never believed Forkum, Hunt, LaLonde or Toler would vote the will of the majority of the people.”
The message prompted an email response from Ryman, one of the original five members to sign on to the legislation.
“Darden, it appears that you are a lobbyist as you refer a lot of your remarks to council members in regards to the fairgrounds legislation,” Ryman wrote. “I noticed however that you are not listed with the Metropolitan Clerk’s office as an official Lobbyist. I would encourage you to do that as soon as possible.”
Contacted by The City Paper, Copeland said he’s “disappointed that Rip would do that,” adding that he doesn't believe any of his actions through Save My Fairgrounds Inc. to date should be construed as lobbying.
"I'm not lobbying anyone," Copeland said. "I don't believe I need to register as a lobbyist at this time. But out of caution, I will register at the appropriate time. The bill hasn't even come up on first reading yet."
In Metro, lobby means “to communicate, directly or indirectly, with any official in the legislative branch or executive branch for pay or for any consideration, for the purpose of influencing any legislative action or administrative action.”