Photo by Alexander Willis
This story was edited on June 6, 2019 to clarify City Administrator Victor Lay’s relation to the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance.
BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
Spring Hill Mayor Rick Graham announced on Tuesday that that the city will be holding a special meeting to further discuss the contract for the new city library at the Northfield Building, which has seen strong backlash from the city’s newly-elected aldermen, as well as from library staff.
The announcement comes shortly after Alderman Matt Fitterer came out in support of the growing concerns of the city’s planned expansions into the property in a post on social media, in which Fitterer called for the expansions to be reevaluated.
Purchased by the city in December of 2017 for $8.18 million, the Northfield Building is the former headquarters of Saturn, the automotive brand of General Motors that ignited the city’s initial boom. The city also closed on a $13.18 million loan that same month, which was needed to finance the building along with related renovations.
Spring Hill has long planned to move most of its government operations, as well as city amenities — City Hall, the police and fire headquarters and the library — to the new property. The concerns, first expressed by newly-elected Aldermen Dan Allen, Hazel Nieves and John Canepari earlier in May, are that the current state of the building is not fully understood, that moving city operations to the southernmost point of the city would not be viable, and that the city may have overpaid for the building by more than $3 million.
In light of the concerns expressed by the three new aldermen, Fitterer posted a video on social media early Tuesday morning calling for the city’s move to the Northfield Building to be reevaluated in a public meeting.
“In 2017, the City Administrator and staff recommended the purchase of the Northfield Building,” Fitterer said. “Presented to the BOMA (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) as a financially sound investment, the property would allow the city to deliver upon multiple projects at a seemingly significant savings to taxpayers. Elected officials must rely upon full-time city staff to provide complete, accurate and impartial information and analysis to make critical decisions – there can be no conflicts of interests. Last week, newly discovered information was uncovered and shared by Aldermen Dan Allen, Hazel Nieves and John Canepari. In light of these surprising revelations, the decisions made in 2017 must be reevaluated. I swore an oath to always act in the best interest of Spring Hill, and it’s in our best interest to act immediately.”
Regarding Fitterer’s mention of a conflict of interest, among some of the alleged revelations shared by Allen last week included that the entity the city purchased the Northfield Building from in 2017 – the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance – has had City Administrator Victor Lay listed as a board member on its website. An email to Lay revealed he is away from his office until Monday, June 3, and that he does not have access to email.
Despite the allegation, Lay does not, nor has ever served on the Board of Directors for the SCTWA, and instead had only served on a separate body that acted as an advisory board for the SCTWA, as well as a junior advisory board called the Northfield Oversight Advisory Committee.
Allen and Nieves have all since praised Fitterer for his call for more transparency, releasing their own respective statements on social media shortly after Fitterer’s.
“I applaud Alderman Matt Fitterer on his decision to advise Mayor Graham to call a special session to re-evaluate the recently-passed library construction project as well as the Northfield property as a whole,” Allen wrote. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Spring Hill to use their tax dollars wisely and to listen to their concerns. We cannot be conflicted by personal agendas or legacy building by individuals. For our city to thrive, the BOMA and city staff must have maximum transparency and eliminate any perception of conflicts of interest. It’s always better to correct a decision rather than enduring years of regret while wasting taxpayer dollars.”
“We must be fiscally responsible at every level and every decision with taxpayer monies and with decisions that literally shape the future of our wonderful city,” Nieves wrote. “I applaud Alderman Fitterer to help move this issue before the Mayor and BOMA to reevaluate all aspects of the project to ensure sound judgment and wisdom regarding the purchase of Northfield.”
The special called meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 3 at City Hall, located at 199 Town Center Parkway.