Metro's legal authority for closing Fairgrounds disputed

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 11:27pm

Nashville Speedway at the Fairgrounds.

In the wake of Mayor Karl Dean's decision to end the state fair and begin planning for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds, a vocal preservation group is pointing to arguments that challenge the legality of the decision.

The Mayor's Office and members of the Fair Board of Commissioners say the group's arguments don't stand on sound legal ground.

Referencing a 1901 piece of state legislation that authorizes Davidson County to issue the bonds for the purchase of the fairgrounds, the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group says Metro is under obligation to host a permanent state fair at the site.

“That legislation has never been repealed and it's been incorporated into the County Charter,” said the group's spokesman, Thomas Watson. “Like it or not, way back 100 years ago, Davidson County agreed to have a permanent state fair forever. There is no provision in the law or the charter to cease operations.”

Watson says the section of the Metro Charter that outlines the creation of a Fair Board, Act 515, rests oversight exclusively with the board. The mayor, he argues, does not have the authority to pull the plug.

But according to the Mayor's Office, the administration has consulted extensively with Metro's Legal Department and concluded their actions are within their legal right. Spokesperson Janel Lacy told The City Paper Tuesday that the administration never would had moved forward on the fairgrounds without legally establishing its authority.

Repeated calls to Metro Legal were not returned by Tuesday evening.

Fair Board Chairman James Weaver told The City Paper he was familiar with the group's argument, but felt the preservation group had no case.

“I applaud their passion, but according to our legal counsel, they are simply wrong,” Weaver said.

Dean's decision to end the state fair at the site came after an appraisal of the Fairgrounds and the event.

“It is clear that the current course of the state fair is not sustainable, and continuing to run the fairgrounds until its reserve fund is completely exhausted is not the responsible thing to do,” Dean wrote in a Oct. 5 letter to the Fair Board. “One more year at current spending levels would take the reserve fund to zero, and the Fair Board would then have no resources to continue.”

In the wake of the letter, the Fair Board voted at its Oct. 6 meeting to keep operating the event until June 30, 2010, the date Dean said  the Metro Finance Department would take control of the property.

Still unanswered is where other popular events held at the fairgrounds, such as the flea market and Christmas Village, might find a new home. 




14 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 10/20/09 at 9:43

Hit dizzy Dean with a beaner.

By: govskeptic on 10/21/09 at 4:26

Has Metro legal ever NOT gone along with any proposal
any mayor has ever wanted! This group puts out legal
opinions daily, but never wants to go to court on any
occasion. Not only this matter but on most be very
skeptical about the legal soundness of those opinions!

By: idgaf on 10/21/09 at 5:54

Sue Cain has cost us a lot of money.

By: xhexx on 10/21/09 at 6:55

I hope the preservation group takes Metro to court over this.

By: JeffF on 10/21/09 at 6:59

Not that I support the fair, but I have to believe when one side presents actual law and the other side presents an argument of "we checked into this first" that the mayor's office will lose this. Their case in conspicuously absent and I think they are playing the "I hope this goes away" game, thinking the other side will not have the fortitude to stay in court with them.

I hate it when actual law is not used properly while the legal system gets used to bully opponents.

By: sidneyames on 10/21/09 at 7:00

Me too, xhexx. I don't want the fairgrounds area to be another high rise condo community; I like the diversity of the fairgrounds just as it is now. And isn't diversity popular with the Dean admin anymore?

By: jrcramdon on 10/21/09 at 7:30

The Mayor has a plan. He fully intends to give the land to HCA. They approached him many months back and he agreed to do it. They want build build thier corporate campus there. Why there? becuase there lies 117 acres of land that the city owns and HCA will not have to negoitate to buy it.

It's a done deal! And if the Mayor were genuinely concerned about the deficit, why wouldn't he close General Hospital?

By: Hotshoe17 on 10/21/09 at 7:52

What was explained to me by the late Reece L Smith, Jr was that the property that is known as the State Fairgrounds was given to the City of Nashville with the intention of holding a State Fair on the property every year. Now, in the event that a State Fair was not to be held, then the property was to be sold and there was a reversion in the contract that stated that the proceeds were to be distributed evenly among the aires of the original family that donated the land. Now, does this mean that by not having a State Fair, this has to be done? And, does this mean that Metro would not have the rights to a dime of the proceeds?
Now, can we send Karl Dean back to Massachucetts and get a local person who really cares about ALL the people of Nashville to be Mayor? And to all those who want the Fairgrounds gone because you don't like it.......... What was here first, you or the Fairgrounds? Now, go back to where you came from and stop ruining the lives of the Old Nashvillians. Thank you, Stan

By: Pmd12931 on 10/21/09 at 7:59

The Fairgrounds might be losing money, but Mayor Dean must have something planned because he is promoting a convention center and hotel that stands to lose money too, especially in the near future with the economy as it is. I hope the group moves forward and proves the legal department and Mayor Dean wrong. I still think the people who will eventually be saddled with the convention center and hotel should be allowed to vote on both, and not believe our Council is voting in our best interests, but most of them rubber stamping Mayor Dean's ideas and proposals.

By: sidneyames on 10/21/09 at 8:04

I agree.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 10/21/09 at 8:19

jrcramdon, where on earth did you get that info? lol!

By: artsmart on 10/21/09 at 8:24

I hope these people move for a trial. My experience is that Metro Legal makes up the law as they go along. When push comes to shove they have no leg on which to stand. They deal in threats not law. Mayor Dean put together quite a group and the law has nothing to do with it. I did not realize he was from Mass. that explains it all.

By: pswindle on 10/21/09 at 8:33

Dean has to be stopped/ He can not come in and change the Charter of Davidson county just because he wants the money for a Convention Center.

By: tekman on 10/21/09 at 2:10

"Watson says the section of the Metro Charter that outlines the creation of a Fair Board, Act 515, rests oversight exclusively with the board."

In December 2008, the fair board voted to hold the fair one last time at the current fair grounds. After that, the site would be turned over to the mayor. if the legal case is based on the idea that the mayor doesn't have authority over the fair ground, the board handed that authority last December.

As for the argument of "who was here first?", perhaps all of us non-Native Americans should pack our bags and head back to Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.

The only constant in the world is change. There are three options: accept change, try to shape the change, or be constantly disappointed.