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Metro Does Damage Control Following Contract Investigation

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MDHA board meeting MDHA board meeting
Phil Ryan Phil Ryan

The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency held its first meeting since the NewsChannel 5 investigation showed payments to a public relations firm ballooned to six times the original budget.

Investigative reporter Ben Hall attended the meeting on Tuesday, where the board was doing damage control and promising to review all the spending that they defended in our first report.

"We're going to put fresh eyes on the McNeely Pigott invoices," said MDHA executive director Phil Ryan.

It was a different response than when we first interviewed Ryan about spending involving a communications contract.

In our first interview, Ryan defended the spending by the PR firm McNeely Pigott & Fox. 

"There's nothing wrong here everything is fine, as I said it's less than three percent of what we've spent to date," Ryan said at the time.

The contract originally was not to exceed $75,000 but it grew to more than $450,000. Invoices showed the firm charged metro up to $285 an hour to attend council meetings and monitor blogs.

"In light of all the questions raised its prudent just to take a second look," Ryan said Tuesday.

Ryan said MDHA will review all the bills.

He claimed the communications budget for the entire convention center project -- from beginning until it opened -- was supposed to be $900,000. 

McNeely Pigott & Fox spent more than half that amount - much more quickly than expected - even before the project was approved.

"Do you expect that you'll ask for money back?" Hall asked Ryan.

"That's possible," the MDHA executive director answered.

One Metro councilman was asking for a meeting with Ryan to explain all the expenses.  "I'm rising to announce a tentative meeting with Phil Ryan and interested members of the council," said Metro Council member Mike Jameson.

Ryan said he'll meet after MDHA does its own review. He also announced that MDHA has put a spending cap on at least one more convention center contract involving a consultant.

"We've looked at all the contracts and converted the financial consultant to a 'not-to-exceed amount," Ryan said.

MDHA will not likely be in charge of the project much longer. The mayor wants to shift control of the project to a newly created nine member authority. 

Ryan also said MDHA sent monthly reports to the Metro's Finance Department about the PR contract. City officials should have been aware of the spending.

The finance department is conducting its own review of the bills.

McNeely Pigott & Fox said they were cooperating with the review of the bills and that all the charges were appropriate.

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