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Council Showdown Over Convention Center Contract

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Phil Ryan Phil Ryan

A public relations firm is off the job, after it resigned from a lucrative contract earlier Monday.

Still, that did not stop a dramatic showdown between the Metro Council, the PR firm and city officials overseeing the proposed convention center project.

Investigative reporter Ben Hall first broke story and attended Monday night's meeting.

Council members took turns scolding Metro officials and asking questions about how costs associated with a communications contract grew so quickly.

Metro's finance director admitted there had been insufficient oversight of a contract that NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed was originally not to exceed $75,000, but grew to more than $450,000.

The biggest criticism was for Phil Ryan, the head of the agency that oversees the convention center project.

"We can always learn we can always do better, and I appreciate all the comments that I've heard tonight, and we'll take those to heart," said Ryan.

All the partners of the public relations firm McNeely, Pigott & Fox also attended the meeting. The firm had just resigned from the project, but came to answer questions about billing and defend their work.

"We are proud of the work we've done, and we don't have any apologies for any of the work we've done with any of our clients over the last 22 years," said senior partner Mark McNeely.

Some Council members went line by line through the firms invoices, focusing on whether it was actually lobbying on behalf of the convention center. 

Invoices showed the firm charged up to $285 an hour to review blogs. There were charges for Facebook and Twitter accounts that showed support for the project.

Council members questioned why the contract was changed to an open-ended contract with no limit on spending. MDHA said it would do things differently now.

The council votes Tuesday night on whether to take control of the convention center away from MDHA. 

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