Metro Council To Get Involved With Belmont Controversy
by Chris Cannon
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Members of the Metro Nashville City Council will now get involved with the Belmont University controversy surrounding the resignation of a women's soccer coach earlier this month.
A letter from the Tennessee Equality Project, and an ordinance introduced by Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson will put the discrimination issue on the council's agenda.
Soccer coach Lisa Howe resigned from the university after she violated school policy by revealing her sexual orientation.
The Tennessee Equality Project, or TEP, sent a letter Monday to council members asking for three committees evaluate Metro's relationship with Belmont University. TEP is a statewide organization dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
The organization wants the parks committee to look into leases Metro has with Belmont, the personnel committee to investigate discrimination accusations, and the convention center authority to look into comments made by Marty Dickens.
Dickens is the chairman of the convention center authority. He is also the chairman of the Belmont board of trustees.
He has been quoted supporting Belmont's stance on its sexual orientation policy.
Chris Sanders from TEP said that stance could lead to discrimination within the convention center authority. He also feels it may send a negative message to potential visitors thinking of coming to Nashville.
"I think there is also the possibility if he's making these kinds of comments it would reflect badly in his leadership role with the Convention Center Authority to the business community across the county," Sanders explained.
Councilman Hollin has introduced legislation that would rescind a lease with Belmont for Rose Park in Edgehill. In 2007 the city and university entered into an agreement where Belmont would develop athletic facilities at the park and lease the land from Metro.
"Belmont's a private institution. They can discriminate on any basis what-so-ever," Hollin said.
But Hollin is worried Metro's affiliation with Belmont could lead to problems in the future and wants to get out of the lease with Belmont unless university leaders change their policies.
"They've got a lease hold interest in a public space when its our policy not to discriminate on the basis of sexual gender and identity. You can't have it both ways," Hollin added.
In 2009, Metro Nashville adopted a anti-discrimination policy that included sexual gender and identity in its protections.
But there could be a problem area for city lawmakers.
The agreement with Belmont for Rose Park states if either side backs out of the deal, the other side has to repay the money already invested into the project. Construction of the athletic facilities is well underway at the park.
Hollin said if Belmont leaders do not update their policies that financial hit may be something Metro has to deal with down the road.
"Do we accept it (discrimination) when it's convenient for us, meaning it's okay to discriminate when there's going to be a cost consideration? I hope not," Hollin said.
The lease legislation will come up for a first vote at the Metro Council meeting on December 21.