Fort Negley: An Inside Deal Turned Inside Out

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By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — The trouble started when a brown-skinned man who wears a turban thought he could play with the good old boys who run this town. His name is Devinder Singh Sandhu and he met with Karl Dean in 2014 about turning Greer Stadium into a soccer facility.

Sandhu met with Mayor Megan Barry in February 2017 to get her support for his idea and she told him to give it his best shot but they were going to let developers have the Greer Stadium property. And they did.

It looked like Sandhu’s long-held dream died May 19 when the Procurement Office rejected his Adventure Park plan. The group that won the bid, Cloud Hill Partners, is led by Bert Mathews, a political ally of Mayor Megan Barry.

The Mathews’ proposal scored 96 out of 100 points. According to former Contract Officer Jeff Gossage, a panel of seven judges arrived at that winning score by way of consensus. Sandhu, one of the five project finalists, protested the award to the Mathews Group and wanted to know how a consensus could have reached such specific scoring numbers.

Where were the judges’ notes, scores, and comments? Contract officer Terri Troup told Sandhu the Procurement Department doesn’t have any records from the judges’ deliberations.

The judges gave him no points for being a minority prime contractor of the Adventure Park, Inc. proposal. They also noted Sandhu’s group lacked experience.

That really sticks in his craw because one of his partners, Tony Giarratana, is building the second tallest skyscraper in Nashville on the corner of 5th and Church St.

“On my development team I had the guys who essentially revitalized downtown and Holiday Properties, a national development firm, and they said you have no experience,” Sandhu scoffed.

Sandhu’s protest was dismissed on June 28. He has appealed to the Procurement Appeals Board. In a 27-page document that reads like an indictment, Sandhu argues that the RFQ to develop the Greer Stadium site was misguided from the beginning. He repeats the questions former Contracts Officer Jeff Gossage refused to answer during the June 22 protest hearing (see Tribune, June 29)

Sandhu says the Procurement Office has provided no documentation that shows the Mathews proposal won on its merits. If, as he suspects, Procurement passed the Mathews plan through the RFQ process on greased skids, he wants them to admit it or withdraw the RFQ.

The Procurement Office is a part of the Finance Department, headed by Talia Lomax-O’dneal. She is also Chairperson of the Procurement Appeals Board. Sandhu says she has an obvious conflict of interest and should recuse herself from his appeals hearing.

“My objective right now is to find out why they did this procurement and why they did the selection the way they did it, which doesn’t seem to be fair, especially considering only two out of five finalists were allowed to give presentations,” he said.

Sandhu knows it is unlikely the Procurement Appeals Board will admit their own department fixed the bidding and then followed it by covering up what actually happened behind closed doors and with the judges who signed nondisclosure agreements.

“We think they are withholding information,” said Sandhu. The date for the Appeals Board hearing has not been set.

On August 28 Sandhu filed an ethics complaint with the Nashville Council Board of Ethical Conduct. They could do their own investigation. Sandhu said he wants the seven Fort Negley judges and others involved in the RFQ to appear and answer questions from the board.

Meanwhile, the Mayor’s office and the Cloud Hill Partners group are not backing down. Both have been using news outlets and social media to promote the Cloud Hill Partners plan. The group has hired two more PR firms in addition to McNeely, Pigott and Fox.

The extra effort has not been going well for the Cloud Hill Partners. When Bert Mathews showed up to sway the African American congregation at the Tabernacle of Glory Church last month, veteran civil rights activist, Kwame Lillard, challenged him.

“I asked him what he thought Mayor Barry would feel if somebody wanted to dig up where her family was buried. He didn’t say anything,” Lillard told the Tribune.

The Tennessee Preservation Trust recently put its objections to the Cloud Hill Partners Plan in a letter to Mayor Barry, the Metro Council, and the Nashville Park Board.

“The Tennessee Preservation Trust (TPT) supports the effort to restore all of St. Cloud Hill as a park,” wrote Dr. Michael Birdwell, former TPT Board Chairman.

Birdwell said that the Ryman Auditorium, the Parthenon, lower Broadway and Music Row have all been threatened by development or demolition but those unique places were worthy “of the city’s continued effort to preserve, protect, and promote” them.

“Many of these locations are the very backbone that drives a good portion of tourism in Nashville,” Birdwell wrote. He added that two previous administrations had plans to fulfill a vision of Fort Negley Park that did not include its commercial development.

The NAACP has also weighed in against the Mathews plan. (See Tribune, August 17)

“The brakes we have put on this process have actually empowered city council and now the battle will be who has more votes, the Mayor’s office or Councilman at Large John Cooper and the minority caucus,” Sandhu said.

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