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 Beacon Center Tennessee’s Director of Government Relations Jordan Long to the newsmaker line to highlight big pork in the 2021 annual Pork Report.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line now by Jordan Long, director of government relations for the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Good morning, Jordan.
Long: Hey. Good morning, Michael. Thanks for having me again.
Leahy: We’ll start off in a minute talking about this Pork Report, but I have a few personal questions for you, Jordan. You ready?
Long: Let’s do it.
Leahy: So you’re a second-year law student at the Nashville School of Law. Tell us about that experience.
Long: Yeah, that’s right. I just had my last test last night, so I’m done with the semester. But being a lawyer is something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. Fortunately, the Nashville School of Law allows people like me who want to work and go to school at the same time and not to take on that massive student loan debt. It’s been a great experience there. It’s a four-year program. I’m looking forward to the next two and a half years and certainly looking forward to being done.
Leahy: Looking forward to being done! That’s interesting. One of the things about this, Jordan, is first, it’s been around since 1911, and it provides people who are working full time an opportunity to get a law degree at night.
I’ve been very fascinated by these guys. I want to stop by and chat with them a little bit. I think a lot of people in our listening audience have probably thought about going to the Nashville School of Law. My big question for you, though, are you ready? How hard is it? How much time does it take? How tired do you get?
Long: (Chuckles) It is incredibly difficult. One of my professors last year said it best. He said this might be the hardest law school that exists because you work all day long. You have a family and you have to go to law school. I probably spend four to five hours per day for class. Seven days a week. Exhausted.
Leahy: Do you have a family? Do you get to see your family?
Long: I don’t have a family of my own. I’m not married. I don’t have any kids.
Leahy: Okay, that explains it. You’ve got the time to do it then?
Long: Yes. A lot of credit to the classmates that have families or are married and have children. They make it work. So I know that I can too.
Leahy: Well, congratulations on that effort. And we will be cheering for you to make it through the next two and a half years without collapsing in a pile of exhaustion.
Long: We got close this semester, but we finished strong.
Leahy: All right, so now let’s get back to the Pork Report. You’ve been doing this for how long? Ten years? 15 years. A long time. Right?
Long: This is our 16th annual Pork Report detailing government waste, fraud, and abuse. It’s a great way to show citizens of Tennessee what their leaders are doing and hold the leaders accountable for people who don’t have time to read through comptroller reports and news articles every day. We’re going to do it for them.
Leahy: I’m shocked! I’m shocked that the top target of your Pork Report this year is Metro Nashville Public Schools. Oh, I am so shocked. (Laughs) Tell us about the most egregious example of pork at the Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Long: I think the Pork Report got it right in one of the lines about the Metro Nashville Public School website. No bid contract with Meharry Medical Ventures that is a for-profit spin-off that came out, became an entity just before this contract was signed. The report says this is either one of the worst deals in history or fraud.
Leahy: What a great set of options. Worst deal in history or fraud, which is it?
Long: Yes. It really looks bad. It is $18 million for a website that has absolutely no visual appeal. It should not have cost anywhere close to this.
Leahy: Is the website $18 million or $1.8 million?
Long: Michael, let me look here just to make sure. The website is an $18 million no-contract bid with Metro Nashville. Included in that was a $1.8 million website.
Leahy: That looks like a kid out of high school could have done it. How much would it cost to do a website like that do you think?
Long: I know that Beacon reached out and talked to some folks that have some experience in that and said that this would be really worth actually just a small fraction of what that contract is worth. The people that have been involved in this have been silent.
Leahy: Have you asked them and said, hey, why does this website cost $1.8 million?
Long: Not only do we not know why the website doesn’t cost $1.8 million, but there are also recurring monthly fees in there for maintaining it.
And people that are taxpayers here and need accountability. We need to know exactly what’s going on here.
Leahy: What’s the monthly fee to keep it rolling. Michael, I don’t have that in front of me, but it was really kind of a ridiculous amount.
Leahy: We’ll come back and see what that number was. So tell us about this relationship between Metro Nashville Public Schools and what’s it called? Meharry Medical College Ventures? What is that?
Long: Yes, that’s a good question to Michael. Meharry Medical Ventures is a for-profit spin-off of Meharry Medical College. That, as I said earlier, was created just shortly before entering into this contract.
It looks like it was created specifically for this is the first time Metro Nashville has worked with this Meharry Medical Ventures, and they chose a no-contract bid.
Leahy: Who runs Meharry Medical College Ventures and who owns it?
Long: I don’t know who runs it exactly. I know this is a spin-off of the college, the medical school. So it may be led by some folks there. But who runs it exactly, I’m not sure.
Leahy: Well, whoever runs it, they’re getting pretty good salary from it, I would guess, right?
Long: Yes. I think you’re right. This is a good example. Of course, we’ve advocated that when public taxpayer dollars are at stake, there needs to be a bidding process. And this is another great example. But people that live in the Metro Nashville area, they need answers.
Leahy: So the question to Metro National Public Schools would be, what does that website do? By the way, what do you find on that website?
Long: Well, you don’t find very much. As I said earlier, it’s got virtually zero visual appeal. And all this came out when Metro Nashville wanted to partner together with the YMCA for ironically, in-person education while they were out of school because of COVID-related situations. Like I said earlier, this is a really bad example. This is either the worst deal in history or it’s fraud.
Leahy: What other little examples of waste and fraud did you find in Tennessee this year?
Long: We had hundreds of entries that we could have picked from and we go through it at Beacon and we pick out 12 examples in this report.
Leahy: The 12 Days of Christmas! 12 examples of waste and fraud in Tennessee. This Pork Report, it’s a really great design. It’s laid out like a cookbook. You could leave it out at your house. People would never know the difference. But we’ve got all kinds of examples. We’ve got the Megasite deal.
Leahy: Talk about the Megasite deal a little bit.
Long: Sure. So this is a 16 year in the making deal that the state has been looking for someone to come and move into this massive acreage in very rural West Tennessee. And, of course, this fall, we did have four that committed to coming there. But what it cost the state and what it cost the state, the taxpayers.
The taxpayers made an investment of $500 million investment in Ford, in addition to several hundred million other dollars that they’ve already committed to it. So luckily, there are some clawbacks on that $500 million, thanks to work that the Beacon Center has done over the years in trying to protect taxpayers.
But what we’ve seen with Volkswagen and other manufacturers in Tennessee is there’s no such thing as a one-time handout. They will come back for more money and more money. And taxpayers will always be on the hook for that.
Leahy: Well, Jordan Long with Beacon Center of Tennessee, thank you so much for giving us that highlight of the Pork Report. And in particular, best of luck with all of your studies at the Nashville School of Law. Thanks for joining us today.
Long: Thanks, Michael. I appreciate it.
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