James Weaver is the chairman of Metro’s Board of Fair Commissioners. But the Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis attorney is also a registered lobbyist of CBL & Associates Properties Inc., owner of Antioch’s Hickory Hollow Mall, where Mayor Karl Dean hopes to relocate events currently held at the Metro-owned fairgrounds expo center. The fair board oversees fairgrounds activities.
Weaver registered for CBL Properties on Jan. 28, 2010, according to a list of Metro lobbyists that can be found on the Metro Clerk’s website.
As the Metro Council prepares to weigh in on a set of leases that would enable the Hickory Hollow move, some have questioned whether Weaver’s role raises a potential conflict of interest.
Contacted by The City Paper, Weaver, who has served on the fair board since 2006, said he’s represented CBL at some capacity since 1990 and currently works on behalf of every mall in the Nashville area, not just CBL. Chattanooga-based CBL also owns CoolSprings Galleria in Franklin and RiverGate Mall in Goodlettsvlle. Weaver also represents as a lobbyist companies that own The Mall at Green Hills and Bellevue Center Mall.
Weaver said he stopped working for CBL “many months” ago but remains listed as lobbyist because registering as a lobbyist is valid for one-year increments.
“When CBL informed me that they were discussing the flea market and expo center with Metro as a possible tenant at Hickory Hollow, I stopped working for CBL at that moment,” Weaver said. “My time records reflect the last time I did any work for CBL at all — and I don’t even know what it was on — was February.
“I’ve had no discussions with Metro, with [Metro Finance Director Richard] Riebeling or anybody else with Metro about Hickory Hollow on behalf of CBL, and I haven’t had any discussions of any substance with CBL about … moving anything at the fair to there,” Weaver said.
Weaver also pointed out — correctly — that the fair board has never taken a vote or deliberated about moving the expo center or flea market to Hickory Hollow.
“It’s never come before us,” Weaver said.
Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, who supports the preservation of the 117-acre fairgrounds, called Weaver a friend and a “very honest and forthright individual.” Nonetheless, Craddock questioned whether the lobbying ties create the right perception.
“There’s an old saying that perception is the cruelest form of reality,” Craddock said. “That’s something that we deal with in the courthouse and in public life — perception.
“I’m shocked to know that it appears to me that he’s still a lobbyist for CBL,” Craddock said, stressing that he’s been told Weaver has cut ties to CBL. “If he is still a lobbyist, that is a bad perception for people to have.”
Metro Department of Law Director Sue Cain said she wasn’t aware that Weaver was registered as a lobbyist for CBL and that she would look into whether there is a legal conflict of interest.