Decision to close fair was board's, not mayor's

Friday, October 23, 2009 at 3:48am

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.”

11 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 10/23/09 at 6:29

If you believe the above, please raise your right hand!
The Fair Board just like most other boards go along with
the wishes of the Mayor, after all, he appoints them. Metro law
now says the plantiffs may be partially right. This comes
after initially dismissing their contentions altogether. Funny how after a few legal disagreements arise they check to see what the law really says and then have to backup on their bold first opinions.

It will and should take a Charter Amendment or possibly more to settle this totally legal dispute!

By: idgaf on 10/23/09 at 8:07

Looks like sue cain slinked into the backgroung and but Sloan on point.

By: idgaf on 10/23/09 at 8:08

but/ put

By: lisaleeds2008 on 10/23/09 at 9:29

Just more lies to add to the rest.

“[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.

you read this there was no asking Metropolitan Council there opinion and as we know the Blue Ribbon advisory council never happened so Who was the person that made the recommendation the Mayor he made this call alone and according to the the Metro Charter Sec. 5 under the powers of the Mayor he can only recommendation ed this... The Fair Board rolled over on you all...

By: hwalker on 10/23/09 at 9:38

At the last meeting, according to the City Paper, the Fair Board told the audience their "hands were tied" by the Mayor's decision. One hopes that the reporter will now call each member of the Board and ask them what they intend to do now that Metro Legal has put the responsibility squarely back on them. (The reporter obviously should have called the Board members before writing this story but ......better late than never.) I know at least one member of the Board who voted the way he did because he believed that they had no choice. I suspect there are others, as well. The board might, in fact, vote the same way again but now they at least have an obligation to reconsider the matter in light of this opinion.

By: Time for Truth on 10/23/09 at 9:42

I wonder if Deano will put together a 'blue ribbon panel' now...let's see, there's Leo Waters....

The sad fact is this move actually makes sense. The defacto state fair and big league racing moved to Wilson County long ago. The property is in a location where proactive development would make a positive impact on the city. But, as with the MCC, the mayor is overstepping his authority and being sneaky about it at the same time. This backpedaling is evidence that they didn't do their homework at Metro Legal.

By: hwalker on 10/23/09 at 10:26

Perhaps you're right but It would be nice to have one more "final" state fair at the site. I think it would be very popular, even if just for sentimental reasons..

By: some1else on 10/23/09 at 12:31

As pointed out in the story, the Fair Board's motion (as recorded in the minutes) was dependant on input from (1)the Mayor, (2) Metro Council, and (3) a "Blue Ribbon Committee."

(1) the mayor, we obviously have heard from
(2) the issue was never put before Metro Council-- not even presented to the Fair Committee of the council.
(3) the "Blue Ribbon Committee" was never formed.

Therefore, the Dec 2008 decision has no legal effect, because the conditions of the motion were never met.

And at the last meeting, as hwalker pointed out, the Board put the blame squarely on the mayor, saying that 'their hands were tied.'

The Fair Board is established under the legislation as an independant entity from Metro. The Mayor nor Metro Council appoints the members (under law)-- they are elected by the Board itself-- obviously with the intent to remove political influence. (makes you wonder how a real-estate development lobbyiest became the Chair!)

The law even requires that they keep their own funds, NOT turning them over to Metro Finance (although Metro Finance has the right to *inspect* the books).

The legislation and the Charter have charged the Board with operating a fair "annually" with no provisions to cease operations.

The legislature of old tried to set this up as a public legacy to be enjoyed by future generations-- not to become a windfall to Davidson County at some future date.

This issue includes more than just the Fair (although that is all that is legally required) or the racetrack. It also involves the fleamarket (one of the largest in the country), roller derby, wrestling, gun shows, computer shows, antique shows, Christmas shows, Cinque de Mayo, and a host of other activities that have no other venues available Nashville.

Even if closing the fairgrounds *were* legal, it would wipe out a massive amount of recreation for "the common folk" of nashville, and impact the jobs and livelyhood of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The fairgrounds also brings in substantial tax revenue to Metro through sales tax and the usage of motels and other businesses in the vicinity.

Metro uses some fuzzy accounting (such as factoring in depreciation as a loss) to inflate the expenses of the fair operations-- even so, there are currently funds available to run for about five more years at it's current rate of loss (the fair generally makes a profit-- and has done so in 3 of the past 5 years- more than enough to offset any loss).

The Fair Staff demonstrated this year that a State Fair IS viable at that location-- it was a great fair, only marred by having rain every day. It can continue.

Current reserves would carry the Fair another 3-5 years at it's current rate, but if worse comes to worst, the legislation gives the Fair Board authority to borrow money against the property- valued at over $350 million-- that can be used to continue operations. If it somehow loses every year, it's better to lose it by defaulting on a mortgage than to just quit and turn the property over to Metro (which is not a legal option).

And remember, all of this money is NOT from Metro. It's all funds generated by the fairgrounds operations over the years. It does not cost Metro *anything*.

Please everyone urge you council members to stop the mayor before it goes any further, and demand that the Fair Board continue operations with a Fair Board who will stand up and do their legally mandated task of running a State Fair "annually" at the fairgrounds!

By: pswindle on 10/23/09 at 2:38

The Board needs to rethink their decision. I'm sure it is not too late to do so. Let's keep the fair grounds and give Buck Dozier the freedom to trun it around.

By: Shuzilla on 10/23/09 at 2:46

Without getting into a discussion of the merits of the new convention center, the plan is for the MCC to bring in people who spend money, increasing tax collection that will pay for the construction of the MCC while benifiting downtown merchants. The number of people the current convention center expects over the next year is about 150,000 but could be more with a larger facility.

Here's where I see either cognitive dissonance or just smell a plain old skunk. The flea market alone brings in as many as 50,000 people each month to the fairgrounds EXPRESSLY to buy stuff. The 1500 vendors pay taxes AND booth fees, but even more relevant is that the hundreds of thousands of trips to Nashville each year for the flea market result in the same peripheral commerce that MCC promises, such as increased restarant traffic. But, just not for downtown proper.

If we're going to spend $600 million to replace a facility that attracts 150,000 folks to Nashville to spend, spend, spend... why in Hadies won't we do ANYTHING to keep a facility running that might be bringing in 3 times as many visitors to Nashville? Building the MCC while selling the fairgrounds will potentially net a quarter million visitor LOSS to the Music City annually.

By: everloyal on 10/27/09 at 1:40

The comments posted by "some1else" made a very cogent case against Mayor Dean's decision to close the Fairgrounds. And let's be clear, it was Dean's decision all along to close the Fairgrounds despite all the "redirect" that the Metro Law Department is putting forth now. One other point that needs to be made is that the Fairgrounds pays Metro some $400,000 to $500,000 (Internal Service Fees) each year depending, for Metro provided services such as HR, Procurement, etc. So, when the Mayor says that the Fairgrounds costs Metro, at best, he doesn't know what he is talking about. At worst, ignoring the truth to serve his own purposes.The fact is that the Fairgrounds costs Metro nothing while providing not only sales tax and other revenues to Metro as has been previously pointed out, but also supplements other Metro Department budgets via Internal Service Fees charges. So besides everything else, when the Fairgrounds closes, Metro will have to find additional monies in its budget to replace what the Fairgrounds provided to Metro or reduce the remaining Metro Department staffs. Can't wait until the next Mayoral election!