Jameson drops bombshell before Council meeting

Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 7:06pm

Metro Council members typically use the announcements time before meetings to alert constituents about upcoming community meetings or chili dinners at the neighborhood firehouse.

District 6 Councilman Mike Jameson used his announcement time prior to Thursday’s meeting to deliver a stunning speech in which he predicted the impending end to his own political career, called out Mayor Karl Dean’s office and demanded a special meeting to discuss the billing practices of one of Nashville’s most powerful public relations firm.

Read the full text of Jameson's speech here.

The impetus for Jameson’s speech was the unraveling story of public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox billing Metro for over $450,000 for its communications contract for the proposed new convention center. The original contract was for just $75,000, but the Metro Development and Housing Agency amended the contract and made it open-ended last year.

The story was first reported by NewsChannel5 and in response, Dean called for MDHA to temporarily suspend using McNeely, Pigott & Fox until an audit of the invoices was conducted by the Metro Department of Finance.

The audit was one of Jameson’s primary points of contention. Invoices turned in by McNeely, Pigott & Fox show regular meetings with Dean and his top aides, including Finance Director Richard Riebeling. Jameson said it was wrong for the Metro Department of Finance to conduct audits of the PR firm’s invoices, because Riebeling and his staff should have been privy to the billing practices due to their weekly meetings.

McNeely, Pigott & Fox founding partner Mike Pigott told The City Paper on Wednesday that the regular meetings with finance, “were to update everyone on the project, review revenue collection figures and expenses, discuss upcoming projects and review the most effective ways to present this information to the public.”

“If they’re reviewing the expenses weekly, the PR firm is meeting with the finance department members weekly, and reviewing the expenses — at first why a PR firm is reviewing these expenses on a weekly basis is a mystery to me — the finance department knew this was going on,” Jameson said. “Every week, every week at a minimum they had personal meetings in addition to letters, in addition to phone calls and e-mails, and they knew that these guys were charging us $285 an hour.

“And it’s too late for them to say, ‘Oh my gosh! They’re gambling in Casablanca! We better investigate!’ They knew! And with all due respect, when there is financial impropriety in the hen house, we shouldn’t appoint the fox to be the auditor.”

Jameson saved his sharpest criticism for the fact that McNeely, Pigott & Fox was, according to the Councilman, lobbying Council members and attempting to influence the legislative process earlier this year when the legislative body was considering approving land acquisition for Music City Center. It’s a claim the PR firm has denied, but Jameson pointed to e-mails that indicated otherwise.

“There are indications in the invoices themselves, despite the PR firm’s indications they weren’t lobbying, there was a reference for example March 24, 2009, ‘Meeting with lobbyists at Mayor’s office,” Jameson said.

The object of Jameson’s speech was to call for a public meeting with MDHA Director Phil Ryan to review the PR firm’s invoices. Jameson did not indicate when such a special meeting would take place.

He did acknowledge at the end of his speech the ramifications for calling out Nashville’s largest and most influential PR firm.

“I just want to say to my colleagues that are seated here, this is our half-way point this term,” Jameson said. “I’ve got two years left. I know after this, and after the PR firm that I’ve indicted, I know my career is over if it wasn’t already.

“But I just want to beg you for the next two years when we consider a project that’s going to cost $1 billion for this city, at a time when we can’t meet Metro budgets and we’re letting people go, I’m just asking you that when you sit your butts in these chairs, that you do it unfettered by inappropriate influence.”

Jameson was chided by Council pro tempore Greg Adkins, who runs the announcements time, and Councilman Sam Coleman for using his time inappropriately.

But Councilmembers Randy Foster, Vivian Wilhoite and Pam Murray defended Jameson and said he was within his rights to deliver the monologue.

 

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20 Comments on this post:

By: JeffF on 8/6/09 at 8:19

wow. What will "The Firm" do next? Will the council go after the other contracts MPF has with other Metro departments and Off Budget Enterprises? Will the mayor stick up for his friends in order to keep money going their way.

Exciting times. Not even an election year and our elected officials have started to pay attentions.

By: slzy on 8/6/09 at 9:49

is it time for a special prosecutor?

By: jps13pat on 8/6/09 at 11:41

$285 an hour?! I'm in the wrong business!!

By: govskeptic on 8/7/09 at 4:29

Many of those hrs of billing were to monitor and respond to articles in the news media such as this one. We all know who was so quick to enter this forum with their long and protracted defense of the smallest of objections to the MCC. I'm sure we'll see some screen names leaving(producer2) and new ones emerging to defend this out dated monster of a project.

By: Funditto on 8/7/09 at 6:02

I smell a rat.

By: BigPapa on 8/7/09 at 6:35

Now we're getting to see the Karl Dean stamp on Metro Government. Crooked, behind the scenes, good ol boy politics as usual.

By: SirKnight on 8/7/09 at 7:01

This could be the small crack in the dike on the downfall of this stupid convention center project. I hope so.

By: idgaf on 8/7/09 at 7:21

The tail is trying to wag the dog when taxpayer money is used to convince them (or try) to do something that is not in their best interest.

Dean has to go. If he is this bad now imagine a second term.

By: JeffF on 8/7/09 at 7:30

this is not going to stop the center by itself, Independent proponents are joining us here in criticizing MPF and MDHA. You can identify the proponents when they talk about moving oversight instead of examining the project itself. The project is so personally important to them that they are throwing their friends in with the lions in order to make sure they are not still hungry when they have to go back to the embarrassed council.

It will be interesting to watch the councilmembers who feel embarrassed for being led around by a PR firm working on our dime. They now should distrust everything that was told to them. Will they?

By: tv8527 on 8/7/09 at 7:31

Thank you m.r. Jamison . Now to the business of stopping this boondoggle of a project .

By: girliegirl on 8/7/09 at 7:56

Wow! Kudos and bravos and thank yous galore to Jameson for having the "balls" to stand up for Nashville taxpayers. :-)

By: cmarcus45 on 8/7/09 at 8:12

Kudos (1) to NewsChannel5 for exposing this (even though Phil Williams can make a bit of a stretch at times (see, Sen. Bunch piece)) and (2) to Councilman Jameson. Instead of suffering political suicide, perhaps Jameson can turn this into an opportunity to challenge Mayor Dean next time around or to succeed Dean. With both the willingness to challenge this spending, the PR firm and the administration, and the political acumen to predict his own defeat (really a smart political move), he is off to a good start.

By: sidneyames on 8/7/09 at 10:01

I had naively voted for Karl Marx Dean. Now I'm definitely unhappy with my decision. I thought I had researched this "convention center" thing, but now see my research was for naught because some of the "opinions" I gathered were formulated by a 1/2 million dollar PR firm deal. Same on me for being so gullible. I am glad that Mr. Jamison spoke up regardless of whether he was out of line with the "format" of city council. Economic times in the country mean that we have to tighten our belts at home. Economic times in this city of Nashville, when employees are losing their jobs mean that we tighten our belts on big capital spending and the Mayor's hot dreams. After all his name is on every street corner. And by the way, who's paying for those "This is a Karl Dean Project" signs? Why do we need to spend that money?

By: producer2 on 8/7/09 at 10:17

Govskeptic,

I am still here and still do not work for MPF, Metro, or any other entity that is tied to this project. I know you may find this amazing, but there are literally thousands of people who actually believe in this project. Have you EVER seen anything of this nature that where everyone was in agreement, 100%? I do not like what has transpired with MPF anymore than you do but it does not make my thoughts on the overall project change one bit. Unlike you, I am not a skeptic but believe that progress is good and will continue to push for it.

By: nvestnbna on 8/7/09 at 11:54

"I am still here and still do not work for MPF, Metro, or any other entity that is tied to this project. I know you may find this amazing, but there are literally thousands of people who actually believe in this project. " P2

Then in light of the questionable PR stating widespread community support, I'm sure you won't oppose a referendum.

By: govskeptic on 8/7/09 at 3:31

A billion dollar project begs for an up or down referendum on this project! The projected numbers on this project are as far off percentage wise as the PR budget numbers are.

By: Time for Truth on 8/11/09 at 8:12

prod, of the many people I talk to, only one is in favor of the project and he runs a business in the tourist zone. No, he doesn't run one of the several nudie bars in the area, but I'm sure you can count the strippers and bartenders at those establishments among the 'thousands who believe in this project'. What I've heard from everyone else is what I've been saying here: 'waste of money', 'dying industry', 'money needed elsewhere', etc. Is it really 'progress' to spend a huge sum of money on a building for a business model that will be obsolete shortly after it opens? My idea of 'progress' is fixing the schools.

I'm glad Jameson takes his job seriously. I haven't agreed with everything he's done, but he's made a lot of friends as well as powerful enemies with this speech.

sid, don't feel too bad about supporting Deanie-Weenie. Clement was all over the idea of building a convention center, along with promising everyone else everything they wanted. He may have been even worse if such a thing is possible.

By: Time for Truth on 8/11/09 at 8:34

Dean is bad enough but Reibeling really needs to go. Mealy-mouthed spimeister.

By: Time for Truth on 8/11/09 at 8:35

Spinmeister

By: lisaleeds2008 on 8/11/09 at 8:52

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.