Central to the legal debate over the closing of the State Fair and the Fairgrounds in Nashville, along with Mayor Karl Dean's plans for the redevelopment of the site, is the question of who has final authority over such a decision.
The Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group has made the claim that the mayor has no direct say in the matter, citing a 1901 piece of state legislation that puts Metro under obligation to host a permanent state fair at the site.
According to Metro Legal, the group is partially right. But, said Metro Legal attorney Doug Sloan, the final authority over the fair lies in the hands of the Fair Board.
And Mayor Dean never specifically declared he was ending the fair, Sloan said. Instead, the Mayor was asked to provide recommendations to the board.
At the Dec. 11, 2008 Fair Board meeting, Board member Charles Sueing made a motion asking for the mayor's advice on what steps were next possible for the fair.
“[Sueing] moved to continue utilization of the fairgrounds in 2009 as we have in the past, including utilization of the track on an individual-contract basis versus extension of the lease. After 2009, the Fair Board would relocate its operations consistent with the recommendations of the Mayor's Office, the Metropolitan Council and a Blue Ribbon advisory council. This process would be completed by the end of the year 2009,” the minutes from the meeting reads.
The motion was passed unanimously. According to Sloan, the Mayor's Oct. 5 letter was in response to this request for recommendations. Upon receiving the letter, the board went with the Mayor's recommendations, as the December motion said they would.
In the letter, Dean says he's instructed the “Metro Finance Department to take control of the Fairgrounds property at the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, 2010.”
At the Oct. 6 meeting, the board voted to keep operating the fairgrounds until June 30 and to explore locating new accommodations for the events.
“They asked for guidance from the Mayor's office. And in response, the Mayor sent a letter laying out how he feels it should be handled going forward,” Sloan said. “It was the Fair Board's decision to do that.”