Mayor Karl Dean, putting on his cap as the city’s former law director, questioned Monday the legality of Metro Councilman Duane Dominy’s proposed bill that seeks to preserve the Metro-owned fairgrounds.
At a press conference designed to highlight the economic potential of redeveloping the 117-acre fairgrounds property, Dean didn’t hide his true feelings about Dominy’s legislation, suggesting that it has “a lot of legal issues to it” and “many, many problems.”
“I’m no longer a practicing lawyer, but I think the language of the bill is contradictory,” Dean said, pointing out that the council already approved a capital spending plan that includes funds to turn parts of the property into a 40-acre park.
“I think [Dominy’s bill] would require us diverting funds from the operating budget into the fair,” he continued.
“The bill before the council is essentially an unfunded mandate. It says, ‘You can’t do anything unless you build another speedway or build another fairgrounds site. And we don’t care how much it costs. If you have to raise taxes to do that, do that.’
“Well, we’re not going to do that,” Dean said. “We’ve got to be responsible fiscally. We’re not going to put ourselves in a position where we have to raise taxes to have a state fair.”
Dominy’s bill, set to go before the council on a critical second of three votes next week, would essentially reassign the mission of Metro’s Board of Fair Commissioners. The fair board, as outlined in the legislation, would not be allowed to sell or lease the property until another site to hold the Tennessee State Fair is purchased.
A group of state tourism and agriculture leaders recently formed the Tennessee State Fair Association to try to land a new state fair in Davidson County.
Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper said he’s in the process of drafting a legal analysis of Dominy’s bill, which should be delivered to council members by Thursday. Cooper declined to comment on Dean’s comments until the analysis is finalized.
Asked for his thoughts on Dean’s legal questioning, Dominy pointed the finger back at Dean. Dominy said he asked the Metro Department of Law for a legal analysis of Dean’s fairgrounds actions more than one year ago, but hasn’t received it.
“To date,” Dominy said, “Metro legal has failed to provide a charter section, Metro ordinance, Metro resolution, memorandum of understanding or any other legal document supporting his actions.”
Dominy also took exception to Dean’s assertion that clearing 40 acres for a new park at the fairgrounds means that the property couldn’t retain expo center events or still accommodate an annual state fair.
“In no way does [the bill] prevent turning parts of the property into a park,” Dominy said.
Even if the fairgrounds bill did contradict the council’s approval of Dean’s capital spending plan, Dominy said it wouldn’t matter.
“When there is a contradiction between ordinances or bills, the most recent passed bill supersedes the previous,” Dominy said. “[Dean] should know that.”
Earlier in the press conference, Dean singled out — without identifying by names — other elected officials who have capitalized on the fairgrounds issue while running for another office.
Dominy, a Republican, was defeated last week in the District 59 state House race.
“There have been numerous reports over the last few weeks about people who are not happy about this decision,” Dean said, referring to his administration’s plans to relocate flea market and other expo center events to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch. “Whether it’s other elected officials using it as a platform to run for office or from [expo center] vendors from out of town.”
Presumably, Dean was referring to Dominy.
Councilman Michael Craddock, who supports the preservation of the fairgrounds, dismissed the notion that Dominy had hoped to use the fairgrounds issue as a way to catapult into office.
“I think that’s silly,” Craddock said. “Anybody who knows Duane Dominy knows he was concerned over the fairgrounds before he even started running for office. That’s just a smokescreen.”
“What about me?” Craddock said. “I’m concerned about the fairgrounds and I’m not running for office.”
At Monday’s media event, Dean was easily the most candid he’s been to date on the fairgrounds issue. In some ways, convincing the public that the fairgrounds property would be better off redeveloped has become one of Dean’s most difficult sales pitches since his inauguration three years ago.
Council members seem split on Dominy’s bill, and many observers are expecting a close vote next week.
When asked if he’s confident the council will defeat Dominy’s bill, Dean said, “Yeah, pretty much.”
Right after mayor’s office spokeswoman Janel Lacy ended the question-and-answer portion of Monday’s press conference, Dean jumped in to say one more thing before media members left. He again made his case for redeveloping the site, this time pointing to what he’s observed to be an inactive site.
“Six out of seven days, there is nothing going on out there,” Dean said of the fairgrounds property.