Metro Council budget and finance committee chairman Jim Forkum sent an email to the vice mayor Monday questioning the Music City Center forum to take place at Vanderbilt later this month.
Forkum questioned why the forum, which will pit public convention center critic Dr. Heywood Sanders against Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau President Butch Spyridon, was planned outside of the Council committee system.
Forkum’s email to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors suggested it would have been easier and more convenient for Council members to attend a joint meeting of the budget and finance and tourism committees instead of the special open forum. The debate-style forum will take place May 31 at Vanderbilt University’s Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
Sanders is considered the preeminent expert on public convention centers, while Spyridon is leading the efforts to build the proposed $635 million Music City Center downtown in SoBro.
Forkum, who has been a staunch ally of Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, levied the following questions at Neighbors:
“Why are these meetings being held on a private campus like Vanderbilt? Why is the media sponsoring this event and in what way? Are Council-at-Large members spear-heading this event? Who requested the forum and what was is the real purpose is as it bypasses the Committee system and thereby undermines the process?”
The forum was spearheaded by at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, but it is being co-sponsored by Neighbors, all five at-large Council members and various district members.
“As you know I totally agree that our committee system is where we ask our questions and discuss the issues,” Neighbors said in her email response. “My understanding was that this forum was to be similar to those meetings being held in council districts as opposed to a committee meeting where debate occurs. Again I cannot speak for the organizers as to the format that will be used.”
Barry could not immediately be reached for comment, but she said last week the forum would be an opportunity for the public to learn more about the convention center project from industry experts.
Council is currently considering a bill to begin the land acquisition phase of the Music City Center project, although no guaranteed maximum price has been attached yet, nor has a comprehensive financing package been introduced.
The City Paper is among the media sponsors for the event.