In the wake of Mayor Karl Dean's decision to end the state fair and begin planning for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds, a vocal preservation group is pointing to arguments that challenge the legality of the decision.
The Mayor's Office and members of the Fair Board of Commissioners say the group's arguments don't stand on sound legal ground.
Referencing a 1901 piece of state legislation that authorizes Davidson County to issue the bonds for the purchase of the fairgrounds, the Fairgrounds Heritage Preservation Group says Metro is under obligation to host a permanent state fair at the site.
“That legislation has never been repealed and it's been incorporated into the County Charter,” said the group's spokesman, Thomas Watson. “Like it or not, way back 100 years ago, Davidson County agreed to have a permanent state fair forever. There is no provision in the law or the charter to cease operations.”
Watson says the section of the Metro Charter that outlines the creation of a Fair Board, Act 515, rests oversight exclusively with the board. The mayor, he argues, does not have the authority to pull the plug.
But according to the Mayor's Office, the administration has consulted extensively with Metro's Legal Department and concluded their actions are within their legal right. Spokesperson Janel Lacy told The City Paper Tuesday that the administration never would had moved forward on the fairgrounds without legally establishing its authority.
Repeated calls to Metro Legal were not returned by Tuesday evening.
Fair Board Chairman James Weaver told The City Paper he was familiar with the group's argument, but felt the preservation group had no case.
“I applaud their passion, but according to our legal counsel, they are simply wrong,” Weaver said.
Dean's decision to end the state fair at the site came after an appraisal of the Fairgrounds and the event.
“It is clear that the current course of the state fair is not sustainable, and continuing to run the fairgrounds until its reserve fund is completely exhausted is not the responsible thing to do,” Dean wrote in a Oct. 5 letter to the Fair Board. “One more year at current spending levels would take the reserve fund to zero, and the Fair Board would then have no resources to continue.”
In the wake of the letter, the Fair Board voted at its Oct. 6 meeting to keep operating the event until June 30, 2010, the date Dean said the Metro Finance Department would take control of the property.
Still unanswered is where other popular events held at the fairgrounds, such as the flea market and Christmas Village, might find a new home.