PR Bills Show Airport Spent $10,000+ On Holiday E-Card
Scenes from airport's holiday e-card
McNeely, Pigott & Fox partners
A leading Metro Council member says Metro bureaucrats just aren't watching your money. That came after NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed him video obtained by the team.
It involves money paid to the public relations firm at the center of the convention center controversy.
But, this week, we revealed how it also got another big contract out at the Nashville airport -- without having to show it could offer the best price.
During the heart of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the video shows how Nashville's Airport Authority spent thousands of dollars.
It's an expenditure that disgusted Metro Council member Michael Craddock.
"It gives me a pit in my stomach to see somebody like that spend money on something silly like that -- it's just awful," Craddock told NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
It's a stop-action video for a holiday email, produced by McNeely, Pigott & Fox -- the politically connected firm that got the airport's PR business. That contract was worth $30,000 a month, billed at rates up to $300 an hour.
It's a deal defended by airport officials.
"If they had a lower hourly rate, it may take them longer to get to their cap," Airport Authority vice president Bob Watson said.
"If their hourly rate was half as much, it would take them twice as long to get to the cap," Williams noted.
"Yes, but they would get there based on what we are asking them to do."
Craddock was incredulous. "Well, with silly stuff like that, they probably do have enough for them to do."
Airport officials told NewsChannel 5 Investigates the video cost less than a thousand dollars.
But we went back to the bills:
"Work on holiday card" -- $300 for an hour's work.
"Prep work for holiday card photo shoot" -- $420.
Then, there was the shoot -- $210 for one person, $585 for a second person, $697 for a third person.
All totaled: at least $10,000, perhaps as high as $15,000.
"Gee whiz," Craddock exclaimed. "No wonder the government is in the shape it's in. We're laying people off, and they're out flying paper airplanes around the terminal."
And like the controversial approval of bills relating to Nashville's proposed convention center, a NewsChannel 5 item about a close call involving airliners passing high over Nashville led to the airport being charged for "watching news for Phil Williams clip."
There were bills for setting up a Twitter page that the airport hasn't been interested in using and for multiple "letters to the editor."
But invoices show that, despite all the billing for the holiday card, McNeely, Pigott & Fox still didn't reach the $30,000 cap in November or December. But the airport paid that anyway.
"When you write a check and pay more than they charged you in a given month, it is sinful," Craddock added.
Even more bothersome than the video, some council members say, is how McNeely, Pigott & Fox was selected for the lucrative contract.
The original announcement for the contract said competing firms would be judged on 11 criteria, but airport officials scored four that they say were the most pertinent.
Among those left out: "Demonstrated ability to ... stay within budget."
"Why would they even fool with that if they are not going to abide by that structure?" the Council member asked. "Why don't they just call them up and hire them over the phone?"
Craddock says his problem isn't so much with the PR firm as it is with the bureaucrats who allowed Metro's money to fly out the window.
Late Wednesday, the chair of the Airport Authority board said airport officials are researching to see if the firm was overpaid.
And he's also asked for an explanation of the holiday e-card. He says the idea was supposed to be to save on postage.