Drama-filled Metro Council meeting sees MLS stadium resolution upheld

NASHVILLE – The average soccer fan – heck, the average citizen – has likely never been to a Metro Nashville Council meeting. Certainly, some were in attendance back in November, when the Council voted to approve a bond resolution paving the way for a Major League Soccer stadium to be built at Nashville’s State Fairgrounds. Fewer were in the council chambers last night when there was plenty of drama about potentially rescinding that resolution.

colby sledge metro nashville council nashville sc soccer mls stadium nashville
Metro Councilman Colby Sledge rises to address his fellow council members. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Councilman Steve Glover (District 12) put the rest of the council on notice that he intended to call for a Rule 36 motion on 2017-910 within a couple weeks.

“There’s been a great deal of confusion,” Glover said. “As we all read, there’s $135,000 that was spent and not done properly. I realize the e-mails started flying today, I’m not going to apologize for it because I think it is our job to make sure that we watch after the tax dollars and them being spent. Rules were broken, it wasn’t followed properly. I’m under no pretense of where we may go with this. I’m simply giving notice that in two weeks, we’ll have the opportunity.

“I think is appropriate to send the message, and say, ‘until you have the 27 votes to do what you’re intending or proposing to do at the fairgrounds, not one penny be spent on that move. So, madam president [presiding official Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner], I appreciate the opportunity to put notice on Rule 36.”

That $135,000 dollar expenditure was later explained:

“No dirt has been moved regarding the stadium,” explained Metro legal counsel. “The only stadium expenditures have been approximately $130,000 in pre-design work, which was necessary in order to get the building footprint in, and grade evaluation and things like that. The issue that has been raised had to do with the account that that came out of. The commonwealth development group had been doing work for the sports authority at the arena and at Nissan Stadium, and so it came out of the account that was being paid for those other projects inadvertently.

“I think you saw the letter from Mr. Riebling saying that was an oversight, he should have checked. He apologized for that and is asking the sports authority to ratify those expenditures. Everything else involving dirt moving had nothing to do with the stadium.”

As was the invocation of Rule 36, which is designed to rescind a previous resolution passed by the Council.

“A Rule 36 motion is a motion to rescind a previous affirmative action of a council,” said Metro Council Director Mike Jameson. “It’s a proper motion – it doesn’t require a suspension of the rules – it does require ⅔ of the entire chamber, so that’s 27 votes. [I]t is a proper motion tonight if Councilman Sledge so chooses.”

District 17 representative Colby Sledge – who initially sponsored Resolution 2017-910 – moved to vote on the Rule 36 action. That may seem counter-intuitive: why would Sledge want to essentially undo the work he did in getting the resolution passed in the first place?

Long story short, that wasn’t his intention. With the confidence that the motion would fail, he simply wanted to bring it to a vote to get the matter resolved. That would allow the stadium plan to move along through the typical channels, and allow constituents of districts across Davidson County to know that their engagement with elected officials and stadium designers wouldn’t be for no purpose.

“To me, I think it would be disingenuous to say that we would potentially do this, have this hang over our heads, when I truly believe that this council doesn’t want that,” Sledge explained. “And I think that we have the opportunity to work together, and I’ve told many of you that as we’ve had this conversation since the vote in November. I don’t come from this from a point of malice: there’s nothing there, except for the fact that I would like for us to keep working together. I don’t see that a motion to rescind bonds that we have said we would issue if a team came – and then a team came – I don’t see that as working together. So I would rather we get past this tonight, and then have a conversation that’s really productive about what we can do for our communities: not what we can take away, but what we can add to our communities. If we’re not having that discussion, then what’s the point? What’s the point of doing any of this? So with that, I would tell you, I’m making a motion so we can vote on it tonight.”

The Rule 36 motion on 2017-910 came to a vote, failing spectacularly with eight votes in favor, 16 against, and seven abstentions (and for a motion that requires an action in the affirmative, abstaining from the vote is effectively a ‘no’ vote).

Aside from a misinformed diatribe by District 2 Councilman DeCosta Hastings – in which he erroneously claimed that a site had not been picked for the stadium, which was directly contradictory to the text of 910 that he voted in favor of back in November (and the embarrassment from said rant effectively forced him into an affirmative vote) – the main voice in favor of the Rule 36 motion was, predictably, Glover.

“I think the major thing I’m trying to accomplish right now is what a lot of people in Nashville are trying to accomplish: we’re trying to understand what exactly have we entered into,” he said. “What exactly do I hope to accomplish over the next two weeks? I hope to accomplish to understand what kind of legal liability we may actually have in place. I always do that: that’s one of the first things I always want to look at. I want to understand it all. But there’s been a lot of confusion. There has not been 27 votes on this floor to say ‘we will build it here, we will do this, we will give 10 acres, we will do all these serious things.’”

Aside from the last part being a transparent lie, maybe he was onto something. However, by a count of 16-8 (with seven abstentions), Sledge’s Rule 36 motion on his own resolution failed – exactly as Sledge intended. The battle in the Metro Council Chamber is certainly not over, but those on the side of soccer in Nashville received a major piece of good news Tuesday evening.

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