Nashville Attorney Jim Roberts, who’s representing Save Our Fairgrounds, joined host Michael Patrick Leahy Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – to discuss the pending lawsuit regarding Save Our Fairgrounds and the Major Soccer League owners.
During the second hour, Roberts explained the status of the suit claiming that the approval was in direct violation of the Metro charter and displayed blatant disrespect for the community. He noted that this was a ‘backdoor’ deal and without any formal agreement and how they will keep fighting all the way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court if need be for the fairgrounds rightful use.
Leahy: We are joined now by our good friend Attorney Jim Roberts who’s representing the Save Our Fairgrounds group. There was a deal announced between Mayor Cooper and the Major League Soccer franchise yesterday that seems to be in my point of view, it looks like the mayor has caved to the Major League Soccer folks. The details are pretty much involved. Jim, welcome to The Tennessee Star Report. What’s your reaction to this deal?
Roberts: Good morning. Good morning, sir. We are obviously disappointed. We honestly thought Cooper understood how bad this deal was for Nashville and for the fairgrounds. So we really are disappointed that they would work out something this bad.
Leahy: What are the bad elements of it? The city is giving them 10 acres, and they can do anything they want to it includes building a stadium and mixed-use development which I think is in violation of the original terms of the establishment of the fairgrounds. Do I have that right? It’s very complicated. Lay it out for us.
Roberts: There are actually two elements to it. The mixed-use is part of it and the stadium is part of it. The mixed-use very clearly violates the 1923 Private Act that established the fairgrounds and the fair board. It violates the Metro charter. It is inconsistent with holding a fair in Nashville. And will pretty much lead to the re-development of the entire property because it will cause the other events like the flea market and expo to all fail. And that is the intention.
This state is also is in violation of the state law and the charter because it’s a use that’s not compatible with the fair. But you have to understand Michael that this property was created for one purpose. And that was to educate the people of Tennessee. To educate the people was to hold a state-level fair. And that’s what it’s for. And now just because 100 years later people want to get rich off of it is no reason to break the law.
Leahy: So there’s a lawsuit going on. What’s the status of the lawsuit? You’re representing the plaintiffs in that case. What’s the status of that lawsuit? And can that lawsuit stop this deal that I think is a bad deal? But Mayor Cooper likes it. And John Ingram, the very wealthy and successful business guy John Ingram who owns the Major League Soccer franchise he likes the deal too.
Roberts: When someone’s going to give you a half a billion dollars in free stuff, you’re going to like them as well.
Roberts: What’s not to like about it. Free land. Free development and the ability to turn your billions into trillions. This is nothing less than an assault on Nashville. The Fairgrounds is a historic treasure. It’s not different than if they want to put the stadium in Centennial Park or up at Radnor Lake. You’re taking something that’s been held in trust of the people of Nashville and you are just giving it away really for nothing.
Major League Soccer has done nothing for Tennessee or for Nashville. A mixed-use development, do we really need that? Is there some shortage of development in Nashville that we’re feeling like we just go to ruin the fairgrounds because we need just a little more? No. This is really all about destroying the fairgrounds because they wanted it gone for about 10 years.
Leahy: But your lawsuit is proceeding correct? What’s the status of your lawsuit? It seems to me on the face of it you’ve argued I think, very successfully that this is an illegal deal that the mayor has just announced with Major League Soccer and John Ingram. It seems to me that your lawsuit could possibly stop the deal. Tell us where it is.
Roberts: Right now we were supposed to be having a hearing next Friday to set a trial schedule. To nail down some of the issues and move forward. Two things have happened. MLS apparently is unhappy with the lawsuit progress has joined the lawsuit. Why they would wait 18 months to try and join in, who knows?
Probably they’re not happy with how the Metro legal is handling the case. And what I mean by that is to say that Metro legal has been unable to beat us down and make this go away. We keep saying, you’re going to have to obey the law. Right now we’re working on an injunction. Regrettably, I happen to have flown out to Denver for vacation. And, so I’m sitting in Denver, Colorado looking at beautiful snow at 5:15 a.m. on the radio. It may be early next week. I hope to have it done today. But it probably will be a couple of weeks before we can do it. (Inaudible talk)
Leahy: Where would you file that injunction, Jim?
Roberts: It will be done in court. Up until this point, as you may know, they haven’t done any demolition of the preexisting (Inaudible talk) We hope they’ll hold off doing that because they will be violating…
Leahy: What is the likelihood Jim, that the injunction would basically stop all activity?
Roberts: Correct. And the basis for that would be that the Metro charter requires a referendum. They’re going to have a public vote on this re-development before it can go forward.
Leahy: What are the odds of the court deciding in your favor in your view?
Roberts: I’m very hesitant. Even after 25 years of practice to predict what a judge will do. I know what the judge should do. And the judge should always follow the law. And we believe the law is pretty clear that there has to be a public referendum. They don’t want a public referendum because they know it will most likely get shot down.
The public doesn’t want to destroy the fairgrounds. They don’t want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a billionaire richer. So they’ve done everything they could to prevent there from being a public vote. But we’re pushing for that, and we’re going to ask the courts to stop everything until a public vote is held.
Leahy: So if Mayor Cooper were sitting here with us, and I were to say to him, well Mayor Cooper, it looks like your deal violates the rule of law because according to the law, and the charter and the terms by which this fairground was provided to the residents of Nashville in 1923. Any other use of it requires a public referendum. How would he respond?
Roberts: Well, I’m very careful about putting words in Mayor Cooper’s mouth. I’ve talked to Mayor Cooper in the past, and he’s seen problems with this deal. But it’s a tendency of government to think they can do whatever they want to do until someone stops them.
And this idea that they can just destroy the fairgrounds just because they want to seem to permeate the Metropolitan government. They don’t really care. They just don’t think that people have a voice in this. They think they get to decide.
Leahy: Does Mayor Cooper think you’re wrong on the law?
Roberts: I haven’t had a chance honestly to talk to Mayor Cooper about the lawsuit because they’re represented by their own lawyers. He knows it a bad deal. He’s trying to make a terrible deal into a bad deal. But it’s still a bad deal, and he knows it. I think MLS is putting a lot of pressure on the city. I know the threats of litigation. We’ve never seen a single document that would be enforceable against the city. When MLS makes these threats we think they’re full of it.
Leahy: There was no written deal written between the city and the MLS. It’s all verbal is that what you’re saying in terms of putting this deal together?
Roberts: Exactly. If they have a deal they’ve kept it secret because we’ve asked for it numerous times as part of the litigation. There may be some backhanded handshake, wink wink, type of deal. But there is nothing in writing. I would like to see the MLS try to sue the city over something like this. They’re just bluffing.
Leahy: This is to me, not being an expert on it, but it does sound like an attempt to end-run the rule of law here by Major League Soccer and in this case by the Mayor. And the courts, we don’t know how they’ll decide. If you lose at the gentry court level are you prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court on this issue?
Roberts: Absolutely. We’ve already gone uphill once and beat back the Metro’s efforts to run over us. And that’s what is really happening. Metro legal or Metropolitan government took the position that they could just run over us. They have pushed hard and tried to run over us at every turn.
All I can say is 18 months later they haven’t built a stadium, and we’ve forced the issue to trial. It really hasn’t gone like they thought it would. Their arrogance was really sort of unparalleled. We did think, to be honest with you when Mayor Cooper came in that he’d have a more pro-Nashville view on this. Let’s just call it.
Leahy: Thank you so much for taking the time to call Jim. It seems to me that Mayor Cooper has caved and is violating the rule of law here by cutting this deal with Major League Soccer and John Ingram. But keep us posted on the injunction.
Roberts: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Listen to the second hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “John Cooper” by John Cooper.