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.