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.
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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