By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Two groups are suing Metro government to stop development of 21 acres at Fort Negley Park.
Director of Finance Talia Lomax-O’dneal, (African American) Purchasing Agent Michelle Lane, (African American) and Steve Barry, Director of the Division of Property are named in the suit that claims Metro broke the law when it put the Greer Stadium site out to bid without declaring it surplus property.
“We are doing this because we have no other choice. There is no other way to challenge what the Metro Government is doing with our parks,” said Attorney Jim Roberts.
Roberts filed a fourteen-page complaint in Chancery Court Tuesday. It seeks to compel the Finance Department to declare Greer Stadium surplus property before it does anything with the site. It also seeks attorneys’ fees.
The plaintiffs in the case are Save Fort Negley Park, Inc., Save Our Fairgrounds, Inc. District 12 Councilman Steve Glover, Leo Kwame Lillard of the African American Cultural Alliance, Dennis Boggs, and Rick H. Williams.
“When you are giving away millions of dollars of real estate you have to follow the law. I don’t think they did. I see no other remedy than to have a court step in and say ‘Did they or didn’t they follow the law?’” said District 12 Councilman Steve Glover.
The suit poses two legal questions: first, whether any part of Fort Negley Park can be sold or leased without it first being declared surplus property? And secondly, can park land be sold or leased without first getting approval from the Metro Council?
“Today’s press conference was nothing more than a cheap political stunt. This lawsuit has no merit, and we are confident it will be dismissed. Metro Council does get to vote on the Cloud Hill project, which Councilman Glover knows full well. ” — Bert Mathews, principal of The Cloud Hill Partnership
“Can that land be legally used for private development?” asked Glover at a Tuesday press conference outside City Hall. He doesn’t think so. Now a judge will decide.
Seven members of the Procurement Appeals Board are also named as defendants as are Terri Troup, the finance administrator of Procurement and Jeff Gossage, the former Purchasing Agent, and seven unnamed judges who evaluated the five proposals to develop the land around Greer Stadium in Fort Negley Park.
On May 26 Metro’s Finance Procurement Division announced its intent to award a contract to Bert Mathews to develop the park. Mathews helped raise $300,000 for Megan Barry during her successful run-off campaign for mayor in August 2015.
“We are suing over the process they have used at Fort Negley. That is all this first lawsuit is about. Just the process,” said Rick Williams, Chairman of Save Our Fairgrounds.
Williams called the Fort Negley project “a closed-door back-room deal”. He said the Park Board, not the Mayor’s office, should decide what happens to the Greer Stadium site.
“We already took part of Rose Park and gave it to Belmont University. When do we stop? What’s next? Take Andrew Jackson’s statue and put a McDonald’s there?” asked Leo Kwame Lillard.
“When do you stop taking precious symbols of our city and turning them over to profiteers? We have to take this route because nobody listens,” he added.
The lawsuit will at least temporarily stop the city from moving ahead with its plan to develop Fort Negley. The plaintiffs in the case said they hope it will force a debate about what is the best use of public land and who gets to decide. Critics say the mayor and the city council are too willing to make sweetheart deals that wind up transferring public wealth into private hands.
That happened at the city council meeting Tuesday night. By a vote of 31-6 the council approved the Mayor’s plan to spend $300 million on a soccer stadium at the city’s fairgrounds. It comes with a 10-acre gift to the team’s owners who can develop it commercially as they see fit.
Attorney Roberts said he would file another lawsuit about the soccer deal by the end of the week.
“Fort Negley is about not adhering to the law. With the fairgrounds, the Fair Board just doesn’t have the authority to give away free land to developers,” Roberts said.
Metro has a month to respond to the Fort Negley lawsuit. There was no immediate comment from the Mayor’s office but Roberts says he expects the city to try and dismiss the suit on procedural grounds