The Nashville Metro government paid over $175,000 to paint the fairgrounds but Larry Atema, the fairgrounds project manager, asked the painting contractor who did the job to use “cost-efficient paint” that turned out to be under warranty for only three months. “But some of that paint is already peeling, after less than a year,” the News 4 I-Team reported in the investigation that broke the story.
Metro Council had voted two years ago to invest $12 million to spruce The Fairgrounds Nashville up, the station said.
The News4 I-Team said it found emails in July 2017 between Larry Atema, CEO of Commonwealth Development and the fairground project manager, and Metro Nashville Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling discussing the details of the $175,000 paint job. The two are friends, the news station said.
Riebeling, the long time city finance director under former Mayor Karl Dean, has served as the Chief Operating Officer of Metro Nashville since the election of former Mayor Megan Barry in 2015.
“The culture of corruption that has permeated Metro Nashville Government for years revolves around Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling, the man who appears to be in control of all the reins of power,” The Tennessee Star reported in May, noting several specific examples.
Atema told Riebeling that $175,000 would be spent in painting buildings “so they look better” while the city figures out “Fairgrounds use options,” News 4 said. That option turned out a year later to involve voting to demolish most of the site to build a soccer stadium.
The Nashville Sports Authority was a finalist for the Beacon Center’s 2017 “Pork of the Year,” as The Star reported.
The Beacon Center described the Nashville Sports Authority in these terms:
The practice of subsidizing stadiums with taxpayer money is becoming less and less popular nationwide, yet the city of Nashville seems to have no plans of slowing down. As we start to have a discussion about a new MLS stadium, which will be heavily subsidized by taxpayers, it is time we take a stand and stop this corrupt and unethical practice.
During the recent mayoral campaign which David Briley won with 54 percent of the vote on May 24, his nearest rival, former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain, who received 23 percent of the vote, called on Briley to fire Riebeling “for misappropriation of funds,” as The Star reported:
“Today, I am calling for acting Mayor David Briley to terminate Metro COO Rich Riebeling for misappropriation of funds. If he does not fire Riebeling it will show he is truly committed to ‘continuity’ of a system that has rewarded big business and developers at the expense of the citizens of Nashville,” Swain said in the statement.
“I would also like to state my unequivocal support for the Fairgrounds. I think it is important and necessary to honor the Rains family’s wishes that the Tennessee State Fair would be held on the land they gave to the city,” she added.
“Over the last decade, there has been a concerted effort by members of the Metropolitan government to fundamentally change the character of the Fairgrounds. Men like Rich Riebeling and Larry Atema have misappropriated funds that were earmarked for much needed improvements,” the former Vanderbilt professor continued.
“The biggest personnel question involves the future of Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling, a top aide under former Mayor Karl Dean, Barry and now Briley.Briley said he and Riebeling agreed to wait to speak until after the election about his future, and they haven’t had time to do so yet,” The Tennessean reported on May 27, three days after Briley won the mayoral election.