Gotto: MDHA should be accountable for MP&F invoices

Monday, August 10, 2009 at 2:29pm

As of Monday morning, Councilman Mike Jameson still had not heard back from the Metro Development and Housing Agency regarding his call for a public meeting to discuss invoices for the communications contract of the proposed convention center project.

Last week, Jameson asked for a public meeting with MDHA Director Phil Ryan to review the invoices. The District 6 Councilman called for the public meeting in dramatic fashion prior to last week’s Council meeting. Jameson wants to discuss the invoices, which showed public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox billed the city for over $450,000 for communications for the proposed Music City Center project.

The original contract with McNeely, Pigott & Fox was for just $75,000, but the MDHA board amended the contract last year to make it open-ended.

During the public announcements time prior to last week’s Council meeting, Jameson delivered a speech in which he accused McNeely, Pigott & Fox of lobbying Council members on a bill earlier this year to begin land acquisition for Music City Center. It’s a claim that McNeely, Pigott & Fox denies.

“I’m waiting for a response,” Jameson said. “I sent [Ryan] an e-mail on the night of the Council meeting. I asked him to pick a date.”

Jameson has the support of several Council members in his call for a public meeting, including conservative District 12 Councilman Jim Gotto.

Gotto called such a meeting “critical” and added, “the future of the convention center is at stake.”

MDHA did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about Ryan’s willingness to participate in the public meeting.

“This is taxpayer money that MDHA is spending and quite frankly I think this is appropriate and I think it is warranted that MDHA comes and lists how it’s spent this money,” Gotto said. “We need to hear some answers.

“I want to hear from the board. I don’t want to just hear from Phil Ryan. I think this ultimately lies at the feet of the board.”

Mayor Karl Dean took action after NewsChannel5 aired its report showing the amount of funds MDHA had spent on communications for the convention center project. Dean suspended using McNeely, Pigott & Fox and called for the Metro Department of Finance to audit the invoices turned in by the PR firm.

Dean also required MDHA to send all invoices related to the predevelopment phase of the project over to Metro Finance before payments are sent out.

The predevelopment funds come from a series of tourism taxes and fees approved by Council last year. So far, MDHA has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities, which include financial feasibility studies, design work and communications activities. Earlier this year, Metro Council allocated another $75 million for MDHA to begin land acquisition.

 

13 Comments on this post:

By: producer2 on 8/10/09 at 4:42

Quote from article:
"The predevelopment funds come from a series of tourism taxes and fees approved by Council last year. So far, MDHA has spent $16 million on predevelopment activities, which include financial feasibility studies, design work and communications activities."

Earlier Quote from Gotto:
“This is taxpayer money that MDHA is spending and quite frankly I think this is appropriate and I think it is warranted that MDHA comes and lists how it’s spent this money,”

I am not supporting what MPF and MDHA have done in regards to how this money was spent but if council members and this writer can't get the facts straight then who can?
If the money is coming out of the fund that by law can not be spent for anything other than the Convention Center than I have a hard time understanding how this is taxpayer money.

By: JohnBirch on 8/10/09 at 5:16

Producer:
Let me help you with that one:
1. A guy owns a hotel that he bought with his own money.
2. He works hard to attract paying guests.
3. He charges the required tax on the bills of all his guests.
4. He puts the money in the bank.
5. He then pays that tax to Metro as required by law.

The hotel owner is required to pay the tax - not the guest. He passes the tax along of course to the guest but it is his liability and responsibility to pay the tax.

I think it is worth noting that all hotels pay the tax and many of those hotels aren't anywhere near the current or proposed convention center.

Now, do you understand taxes?

By: JohnBirch on 8/10/09 at 5:16

Producer:
Let me help you with that one:
1. A guy owns a hotel that he bought with his own money.
2. He works hard to attract paying guests.
3. He charges the required tax on the bills of all his guests.
4. He puts the money in the bank.
5. He then pays that tax to Metro as required by law.

The hotel owner is required to pay the tax - not the guest. He passes the tax along of course to the guest but it is his liability and responsibility to pay the tax.

I think it is worth noting that all hotels pay the tax and many of those hotels aren't anywhere near the current or proposed convention center.

Now, do you understand taxes?

By: bfra on 8/11/09 at 2:40

producer has a one-track mind! How could he understand logic?

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 7:31

johnbirch,
that is a funny post....so what did you mean to say....really?

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 8:01

JB,
Here is how the process truly works.
1. No man owns a hotel bought with his own money. They are chains, franchised and in many cases owned by the brand.
2. They get a vast majority of their leads and ultimate business from the CVB. The CVB's job is to help all hotels in Davidson County aquire business. You can call and verify this yourself but I believe they turn about 500,000 + every year.
3. How do hotels get that help and how is the CVB funded? You guessed it, the hotel/motel tax.

So in essence hotels have the luxury of having others pay for a large portion of their sales and marketing. Now the city wants to help even further by providing another catalyst to drive business and increase "heads in beds"

Now do you understand taxes?

By: JohnBirch on 8/11/09 at 8:30

Ok, now we know you aren't in the PR business and you certainly aren't in the hotel business. Most flags do not own the building. They building is owned operated by an individual, corporation, partnership, etc. They pay regular fees to the flag for being in the chain, access to reservation system, etc. They operate the hotel consistent with the standards set by the chain.

They get some of their leads from the CVB. They also get them from other hotels that overflow and from their flag branding.

The CVB's job is to market and promote Nashville as a tourist and business desitination, including Opryland. Frankly, they do a good job. But, with the exception of a few downtown and airport hotels that aren't responsible for the vast majority of anyone's business.

The CVB is indeed funded through 2 cents of the Hotel and Tourism tax which is collected from hoteliers across the County. SOme see the benefit, some do not.

I am not against the convention center per se (though it has been sold to us with some pretty outrageous promises). But I am against someone telling me I am not a taxpayer when I have to shave 10% from each guest and send it to the government.

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 8:42

i cannot think of more that maybe three or four brand owned hotels in Nashville. The CVB is a useless organization to a majority of hotel owners in areas not named downtown or Opryland. In fact I would think that the CVB would prefer not sending meetings to Gaylord. Being listed in a CVB book does not mean you are being actively marketed.

Anyway more to the point. Who owns the government. If you listening to Producer he would have you believe that it is the CVB and the elected officials. They own all the money being collected in the name of Metro government. We peons need to be excluded from the conversation because we do not own the money and have zero right to complain about their misuse.

News flash: All the money sitting in the bank and coming in is taxpayer money because we as citizens own this government (even if the mayor and their tourism overlords do not show that most of the time). Just because you make a weak claim to a revenue stream does not make it your money and not ours. The mayor and the council and the city staff are not being paid with this tourism money while they sit around awarding more of it to friendly contractors.

We are supposed to sit back while the tourism industry creates another city filled with low paying jobs with no benefits. We would be better off living in a city with nothing but Walmarts, at least they pay better than the majority of hospitality jobs. Working at Walmart also comes with the pluses of being able to score some healthcare and retirement benefits, another rarity among hospitality jobs.

We are letting one of the smallest and least important industries in town control a billion dollars in taxpayer money. Don't listen to spew, they are not a top 5 industry in theis city. They are counting the restaurants, bars, gas stations, and other businesses that serve all of us as tourism jobs. They probably are also counting a lot of retail jobs as tourism related as well. But this is not even about tourism, this is a billion dollar investment in the sub-industry of meetings, a minute part of the already small tourism market. A meetings with marked declines since 1995, not just in the recession. This industry has been seeing decreases in attendance and meetings since the Clinton administration.

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 9:22

JeffF,
Are you sure you are not Heywood Sanders because you deflect just like him? Bottom line that is irrefutable :
We elect our officials to govern, they (both State and Metro) voted on the tax increase to fund this project. Made it law that it cannot be used for anything else...period. Now if you want to change that we do live in a democracy and you can put your name on the ballot at any time. Until then you have to abide by what the majority has ruled on and what the laws are. So let's review, no matter how much you complain, the law states the money collected from the new hotel tax incentive is SOLEY for use for that project and is not deemed "the publics money" End of that discussion (unless of course you have another deflection)

JB )and JeffF)
Do I need to do the math for you on how many rooms are owned by the big hotels and how many are owned by the small properties? Can you get a handle on how much revenue is generated by each for the city (that's right a portion of those taxes do find a way to the General Fund), Now JeffF proclaims to speak for all of the hotels in the city and now he understands which get help from the CVB and which do not. YOur breadth of knowledge in an industry you do not claim to be in is amazing. JB for you I have one question. Give me any city that has a tourism goal that does not have a hotel/motel tax or any variety of other taxes to help pay for these things. Don't you all get tired putting YOUR hand out and expecting others to pay for the things YOU want?

By: producer2 on 8/11/09 at 9:39

let me rephrase a section from above. The CVB does in fact send out leads City wide to any hotel that WANTS to participate. The end user (group or event coming to town) then makes the decision based upon who has responded to the RFP as to what property they want to use. To say that the CVB does not or is not interested in helping every property is in my opinion false.

By: lisaleeds2008 on 8/11/09 at 9:50

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FROM: Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group

DATE: August 11, 2009

CONTACT: fairgroundsheritagepreservation@gmail.com

Fairgrounds Board Refuses To Consider A Change In Reporting Minutes Or Meeting Times.

At the recent meeting of the Fairgrounds Board of Commissioners, the Board, through it’s chairman James Weaver, refused to entertain discussion of a request by the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group (attached) requesting that board meetings be held at a more convenient time for the public to attend, and bring it’s reporting of meeting minutes into compliance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Law.

Currently, board meetings are held at 8 AM, the very start of the day for most working people, and this obviously precludes attendance by most of the general public.

While the open meetings law does not specify a time that meetings should be held, it does specify that actions that are not consistent with the spirit of the law are also prohibited. The FHPG feels that holding a public meeting at a time that most of the public would be unable to attend violates that spirit.

In a letter to the Fair Board, FHPG suggested perhaps 6PM – 7PM would encourage more public participation, but when the letter was addressed during public discussion at the meeting, Chairman Weaver ended discussion by stating that he “had to be in court” during those hours.

Minutes of the meetings are currently provided in “digest” form, but unfortunately do not contain accurate reports of the meetings. Attendees, issues presented, and motions presented have been documented to have been left out of the official minutes digest.

FHPG contends that these digests are not accurate representations of the meetings themselves to the point that any one not attending the meeting itself would be at a loss to accurately become aware of what transpired. Especially in regards to issues that were raised during public discussion at the meetings.

These digests of the minutes are provided to the mayor and metro council for their informational purposes. However, FHPG feels that due to the inaccurate reporting of minutes, a false impression is being given of the events of the meeting.

Again, when confronted with this issue during the public discussion at the recent board meeting, Chairman Weaver ended discussion by suggesting that interested parties could obtain the original tapes made of the meetings.

FHPG feels that very few people would be moved to make such a request, particularly if they had been furnished with a digest purporting to be an accurate accounting of the meeting.

This inaccurate digest of the meetings, particularly when published to the city government is, in fact, a direct violation of TCA 8-44, the Tennessee Open Meetings Act in the opinion of FHPG, and should be corrected by the Fair Board.

FHPG would point to the Metro Planning Commission as a contrast to the Fair Board of Commissioners. Planning Commission meetings are held in the evening at times convenient to the general public, and their very detailed minutes of all meetings are not only sent to selected persons, but are published online on the Metro Government website, and an archive maintained there of past meetings.

Many other metro agencies operate similar to the Planning Commission and the Fair Board of Commissioners could certainly do the same.

By: nashbeck on 8/11/09 at 10:35

Thank you Producer. Build the Convention Center!!!

By: JeffF on 8/11/09 at 11:28

You left out "need" this time Beck.