This is Part One of a three-part series
Nashville Mayor John Cooper and his senior advisor allegedly misled the public and never intended to reveal the actual number of confirmed COVID-19 cases that Davidson County officials traced back to bars on Nashville’s lower Broadway.
As reported, Cooper ordered those bars and restaurants closed after he said they posed a health threat because of allegedly too many COVID-19 cases.
But Cooper and his senior advisor, Ben Eagles, closed those establishments because the two men allegedly had a vendetta against Steve Smith. Smith owns Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse.
This, according to an attorney who represents Smith and another struggling bar and restaurant owner. Their businesses have suffered under Cooper’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Kirk Clements of the Nashville-based Sovereignty Legal Foundation told The Tennessee Star Thursday that evidence that’s already available to the public, including emails among Metro officials, backs up his conclusions.
As reported in June, Smith said in a federal lawsuit that city officials impose hardships on his business because of COVID-19 — but they look the other way when it comes to social justice protests. Smith joined The Local Spot owner Geoffrey Reid in the lawsuit that Reid filed in May against Cooper and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
“We have an email with [Cooper’s Senior Advisor] Ben Eagles crafting this false statement, but everyone else is focusing on whether or not the 19 cases [of COVID-19 at Nashville bars and restaurants] got revealed,” Clements said Thursday.
“Who cares? That doesn’t even matter.”
Cooper spokesman Chris Song did not return The Star’s request for comment Thursday.
Sovereignty Legal Foundation, according to its website, is a non-profit public interest law firm that targets government overreach.
The Events of June and July
Clements said Metro Health officials recommended ways to combat COVID-19 on June 29. They did not recommend closing down bars — but they did recommend that bars close at 10:30 p.m. every night and that rooftop bars close on July 4, he added.
According to a document that Clements sent via email, and which he said is already available for public dissemination, Cooper, at a June 25 press conference, said no one had traced any cases of COVID-19 to a restaurant or bar.
Smith filed a motion to join Reid in the lawsuit against Cooper and Lee one day later, the document said.
“It is important to note that Steve Smith has been very vocal about his opposition to Cooper’s actions related to Broadway, period, from the inception of Metro’s response to COVID-19, both publicly and privately,” according to the document.
“Therefore, it can be safely concluded that significant animosity existed between Smith and Cooper at the time the aforementioned motion was filed against Metro.”
If Cooper and Eagles were seeking a way to shut down bars to retaliate against Smith, Clements wrote, then they could not do it if health officials had traced only 19 cases of COVID-19 to bars and restaurants. One may conclude that Eagles manipulated the data, Clements wrote.
Clements elaborated further while talking to The Star Thursday and cited Eagles’ emails to Metro Health officials.
“The Friday before he [Cooper] shut down the bars, Steve [Smith] filed a motion to get into this federal lawsuit against the mayor and it is our contention in the lawsuit that this is what triggered Ben Eagles’ emails. If you read, you see he asks multiple times how many cases are related to bars? When they only found 19 [cases] he then decided to manipulate the data to make it appear that there were a record number of clusters to justify closing the bars. That is clearly misleading,” Clements said.
“There is no other way to look at it than saying 19 cases out of 3,200 cases? You cannot refer to that as a record number in any fashion or form. That is precisely what they did, and the emails substantiate that. It’s a quote he drafted himself between him and Leslie Waller, who is the epidemiologist for Metro. It was clearly calculated and designed to mislead the public. There can’t be any question about that.”
If one assumes that Clements’ conclusions about Cooper are correct then why would the mayor give in to alleged hatred of Smith and jeopardize the city’s economic well-being?
And Clements said that’s a great question — “with a very simple answer” that he will address in Part Two of our series.
– – –