Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the owner of Nashville Boutique Venues Dan Cook to the newsmakers line.
During the third hour, Cook weighed in on the phase two opening stall in Davidson County, which is putting his business in serious jeopardy along with 20,00 private industry professionals. He noted that Governor Lee’s Executive Order 38 may come into play making the case for a faster opening.
Leahy: We are joined now on the line by our good friend Dan Cook the owner of a couple of fabulous private venues in Nashville, Ruby and Clementine. Good morning Dan.
Cook: Good morning guys. How are you?
Leahy: Well, I saw a news conference yesterday where Mayor Cooper is not moving beyond phase two because of supposedly some slight uptick in cases in the southeastern part of Nashville. What impact does that have on your businesses and the livelihoods of 20,000 Nashvillians who support the private venue industry?
Cook: (Sighs) It’s devastating obviously. The purgatory continues. He extended the phase two lockdown last Thursday and again yesterday. Not only can we not restart but the ambiguity around when we can has really locked down our business. Yes. It couldn’t be any worse.
Leahy: Is he trying to put you out of business Dan and everybody else in the private venue business here?
Cook: Well if I said yes it would seem very conspiratorial but I will note that the four phases that the mayor promulgated have been updated this week. And anyone can go online and look at those but as it relates to the event business our numbers are the only industry that is in a to be determined category.
What I mean by that in phase three and phase four we don’t even know how we will be allowed to reopen. Every other industry has a percentage of occupancy or numbers ascribed to it. But our industry is apparently still unknown. And we are the only ones treated that way. I don’t know what conclusions I come to.
Leahy: Does the mayor have the legal authority to limit your economic freedom as a private business owner?
Cook: (Chuckles) You know what? I wish I knew the answer to that. That’s a question beyond me.
Carmichael: Dan, question. Have you gone to the governor’s office or to Republican state senators or Republican state legislators? Because I do know that if the legislature decides to override and if legislation is passed then it would take away from Cooper’s right to discriminate as he is doing against certain businesses and in favor of other businesses.
Have you gone to the state? Have you tried to go to the state route? When Karl Dean was the mayor, he promulgated some really dumb ideas that got passed in the city council and he signed them and the state legislature convened and then just passed a law that negated his stupidity. Have you tried to go that route?
Cook: I have gotten to that point this week. I want to say it was yesterday or perhaps Wednesday. I put a call into Steve Dickerson’s office and I’ve not heard back from his office yet but I’m hopeful. I’m literally like a drowning man reaching out in every direction right now.
Carmichael: You are a drowning man who represents 20,000 people. I would try and get more of those people involved and if there are other state senators in the surrounding counties. This is an issue even though it’s Davidson County it took an act of legislation statewide to overturn Karl Dean’s bad ideas. So it will take more than a state Senator. Any state senator or representative can pick up your cause and offer a bill.
Cook: That’s great advice. But I can tell you we are the only private event venues locked down in at least this part of the state. Anybody wishing to have a wedding ceremony, reception, or private corporate event, all they have to do is leave Davidson County. All the private event venues are fully open.
Carmichael: I understand. But Karl Dean’s bad ideas only affected people inside Davidson County but the state Republican Party thought they were so stupid that they passed legislation that wiped out the bad ideas. I think what our mayor is doing makes no sense unless you look at the political side of it which then makes it really really bad. As long as he sticks to a position that venues, in general, can’t be opened then that means that political rallies cannot take place.
Cook: Well that’s exactly right. Cynically I thought that after the Republican National Convention went to Florida this week. I thought that that might lead to an easing of phase three. But no such luck. But I think Crom your point is well taken and I’m certainly going to make those calls this week.
Carmichael: I hope you do and I wish you luck for you and the 20,000 hard-working people that are being affected.
Leahy: Now you said Dan that your venues host weddings that are religious events. Is that right?
Cook: Absolutely. Almost every wedding has a religious component of course.
Leahy: I’ve looked at the Constitution and it guarantees freedom of religion.
Carmichael: Yes. But you have to go through the courts for that. The faster way is to go to the state.
Leahy: But still, people who want to have religious weddings in Davidson County at the private venues should have that right.
Carmichael: He’d have to go to court and it would take a year. You got to the state.
Leahy: Well, he might beat the mayor in terms of the mayor’s movement. (Cook laughs) What do you think Dan of the timelines?
Cook: I think you are right on that. I think our governor has recognized that. Executive Order 38 I’ve mentioned in weeks passed. The governor has linked wedding ceremonies and receptions to freedom of religion. That seemingly trumps anything Mayor Cooper mandates locally. But to put that front and center would, of course, would mean litigation and who knows how long that would take.
But I can tell you and this is maybe something I shouldn’t say on the radio, but all the big venues in town are opening this weekend for weddings. And they are all relying on executive order 38. This is definitely a big moment. But all the venues certainly starting this weekend and into next week and the following weekend will be full tilt.
Carmichael: What was the executive order that you’re citing?
Cook: Executive Order 38 which links funerals, weddings, ceremonies, and receptions to the right of religious gatherings.
Carmichael: And this was Governor Lee?
Cook: Correct. He issued that I believe on May 22.
Carmichael: So these are in the city of Nashville where these weddings are going forward?
Cook: Yes. That’s exactly right. Of course, most weddings were pushed out for several months. The pipeline is now trickling and the first big weddings will be happening this weekend. Not at our venue but at other various large venues around town.
Carmichael: Dan, what I would do also is call the governor’s office and try to get an interpretation of that executive order as it applies to venues in Davidson County and just be sure you get an email back from them so that you’ve got it.
So that when you take it to the state reps and state senators. What Mayor Cooper is doing is just wrong. There is no science behind it. There’s no data. That’s like saying we’re going to close down venues because there’s an uptick in traffic accidents. Venues cause people to drive to venues so we’re going to limit venues because of traffic accidents. COVID cases, that’s not a problem. COVID deaths may be a problem, but they are not even a problem. They never have been in Davidson County.
Leahy: They are a little over 400 across the state and it’s nothing compared to any of the other big hotspots. Dan, we have 30 seconds. What’s your final thought for us today?
Cook: Crom, your point is well taken. I’ve certainly put a couple of calls into the governor’s office and I’ve not been able to get that clarification to call back. I wish I could.
Leahy: Come back next Friday Dan and tell us what’s happened.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 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 “The Clementine” by Nashville Boutique Venues.