Phil Ryan forced out of MDHA over employee demotion

Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 11:36pm
By Ken Whitehouse and Steven Hale

When Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency chief Phil Ryan walked into the Feb. 12 meeting, there was an unusual item on the agenda — his contract.

For the past 11 years, Ryan had served as executive director of the agency, but the day before, MDHA put out a statement saying he was leaving. Multiple sources told The City Paper that Ryan chose to resign rather than fight the results of a damning management assessment.

Ryan had survived an embarrassing flap over the amount of money his department had paid a powerhouse local public relations firm, along with losing a lawsuit that puts the cost of the new convention center over budget. But the trouble came when he tried to demote an employee.

According to at least three different people, none of whom would speak on the record because they did not have the authority to, here is what happened:

Ryan decided he was going to demote his director of urban development, Joe Cain, so he placed an ad seeking applications without Cain’s knowledge.

Cain spoke to his father-in-law, attorney and consummate Metro insider George Barrett, and told others that he was about to resign in protest. Barrett convinced Cain to stay put, and after a short time MDHA employees filed complaints against Ryan.

The MDHA board of directors was caught off guard by the dispute and asked an outside attorney to assess the situation. On the attorney’s recommendation, another outside group was hired to evaluate the overall management of the department. The group recommended that both Ryan and Cain be fired.

The MDHA board notified Ryan of the results, and he decided to depart rather than fight a messy battle. Insiders say he wanted to go out with “his head held high” rather than see the complaints go public.

MDHA is holding action on Cain in reserve until Ryan’s replacement is found. It   isn’t clear whether Cain will retain his job.

Sources say the action to force Ryan out was led by members of the MDHA board, which who apprised Mayor Karl Dean’s office of what they were doing.

Ryan, whose full career at MDHA spanned 21 years, offered little explanation for the move in the agency release announcing his decision.

“I am fortunate to have worked with the dedicated and proud MDHA team for more than two decades,” Ryan said. “Our focus has been on serving more than 28,000 residents we house, on sustainable downtown and on neighborhood redevelopment. I’ve given my all to the job, seven days a week, and after much thought, I feel now is a good time to pursue other career opportunities.”

The agency highlighted a number of MDHA accomplishments under Ryan’s leadership, including the acquisition of land for the Music City Center, and the creation of redevelopment plans for the banks of the Cumberland River.

“Phil has pursued efficiency and service to our residents and Nashville’s citizens untiringly,” MDHA board chairman Ralph Mosley said in a statement. “We wish him the best. MDHA will continue striving to fulfill its mission to create affordable housing opportunities for Nashvillians, nurture our neighborhoods, and build a greater downtown.”

10 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 2/25/13 at 6:01

Ralph Mosley along with George Barrett are the ultimate's in what wrong with
politics in City/County Governments. These two represent many Cities in their
dealing in politics, insider relations, and back slapping versus good policy.
So, of course, that brings along the Mr. Cain's within the world of government
employment. There are so many of them, usually in the better paying jobs
with both legitimate and illegitimate titles, with defined and ill-defined qualification.

While taking no position on whether Mr. Ryan should have resigned or not, this does
bring to light the "pettiness" this Mayor and Administration can play in as leadership.

By: twokidmom on 2/25/13 at 6:21

Kharma's a bitch sometimes.

By: Kosh III on 2/25/13 at 7:37

Let me get this right:
the board hires a lawyer who tells them to hire a consultant; the consulting group tells the board what to do.
MDHA needs a Board which can make decisions, not throw money at consultant cronies.

By: bobyounts@comca... on 2/25/13 at 8:33

Phil Ryan should have been indicted when he violated the law by overpaying PR firms to hype Nashville's third convention center. (We have one on Broadway and one in Donelson for which we've given millions in tax benefits). Crooked Nashville politicians still control the city with approval of a city council that is more concerned with its benefits than overseeing the business of the city.

By: nvestnbna on 2/25/13 at 9:19

For the most part, I like Joe Cain, not sure what happened between him and Mr. Ryan, but even if the MCC comes in above, below, or at budget, there were some major blunders by the development/design team on this one. Korean Veterans Blvd side of the MCC with no public circulation, it is no wonder that there is mostly low grade (limited service hotels) being proposed on the south side, even with the roundabout, much less anything beyond. Meanwhile other notable proposed projects are demanding heavy city incentives to move forward, you would think a properly designed project would be more than an enough incentive.

By: bobyounts@comca... on 2/25/13 at 9:44

Korean Veterans Blvd is a disaster waiting to happen. As it now stands, anyone leaving downtown Nashville headed south, must use 4th avenue to access the interstate, and it is illegal to get on I-65 south from 4th avenue. This means every single car headed to south Nashville or Williamson County or points further south must use Broadway to get on the Interstate. An absolute train-wreck.

By: Vuenbelvue on 2/25/13 at 1:38

There was one short article that was left off the internet NCP thread. It is on page 7, before the two page story of some overpriced Kentucky bourbon. "With Med Mart dead, deal gets Metro out of the Broadway Avenue convention center by giving the Ballroom, walkway and 180 car parking garage to the Renaissance Hotel for free for a period of thirty (30) years. The article said it has passed two council readings and awaiting the third and final approval. Mr. Riebeling explains in a few sentences how it is a great deal for all property tax payers. "The Tennessean" doesn't print news of interest like this and of course council members don't inform much but are looking after our best interests, I suppose.

By: Nashv28 on 2/25/13 at 2:27

So 3rd party mgmt firm recommended FIRING both Cain and Ryan, but Cain stays because of his father-in-law…isn’t that the definition of cronyism? Nice move MDHA board!

By: Rasputin72 on 2/26/13 at 3:11

Everybody in America today from the underclass and homeless to America's politicians and Wall Street sluts wants an unfair share of the rock.

By: wasaw on 2/26/13 at 9:35

Fellow writers, be careful what you write here. I learned a few weeks ago that this venue censors our contributions. Apparently if we writers don't walk the line, kind of like what MDHA, NES, and the Airport Authority does for Hizhonor, our contributions are deleted.

McNeely, Pigott & Fox, a major PR firm in Nashville, was paid exhorbant fees by MDHA to push the Music City Convention Center project. It now appears that the MDHA board is now trying to distance thenselves from Ryan. Where was this board when the lying and deceit was first going on? Were they asleep?

Hizhoner's hack board's are all keeping MP&F very wealthy.