Council Members Question Bills for Convention Center Contract
There are new questions about expenses that are part of a controversial convention center contract.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean suspended payment on the public relations contract after NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed spending six times what was originally budgeted.
Several Metro Council members want to know how spending with that contract got so out of control.
"To me, it's morally wrong," said Councilman Robert Duvall. "I've got a problem with what's happening."
Duvall says the spending uncovered in our NewsChannel 5 investigation proves the council needs to look more closely at convention center spending. "I think the council is going to have to take a much deeper role in the oversight of this."
Dean ordered suspension of the contract with the public relations firm McNeely Pigott & Fox. The contract was originally not to exceed $75,000, but we discovered that costs grew to more than $458,000.
Some council members are concerned the mayor was seemingly unaware the costs had gotten so high.
"Either he didn't know -- and that's a problem because that's different than what we understood when we approved it -- or he did know, and that's a problem too," said council member Emily Evans.
A closer review of invoices paid by Metro's development agency shows numerous meetings between the PR firm and the mayor's office. Partners charged $285 an hour for weekly meetings with the mayor's staff. Sometimes, two partners attended.
Bills show charges for updates to the mayor's speech about the convention center.
And there's a $147-an-hour charge to help the mayor's press secretary stuff packets.
Evans said, "When two partners from a leading PR firm show up and prep for a speech or meet every week, you have to wonder how that's being paid for."
Dean declined an interview Thursday, but he said Wednesday night on NewsChannel 5's "OpenLine" that Metro's finance director will review all the PR firm's invoices.
"I'm going to ask him actually to be much more involved in all areas of contracts with the convention center," Dean added.
One of the PR firm's partners, Mike Pigott, also declined an on-camera interview but said by phone that it would be possible for the mayor not to know what his firm was billing for the meetings.
"He was not always in the meeting, and the discussions didn't center around what the public relations bills were -- they did center on general budget issues," Pigott said.
Pigott added that his firm is cooperating with the mayor's office as it reviews invoices. He says all the spending is justified.
As for the suspension of the contract, no one is sure how long it will last. Several council members say they want to know when and if spending resumes so that they can keep an eye on the expenses.
Right now, the Metro Development and Housing Agency oversees the convention center project.