Alderman Stacey Harvey is not happy with how the city is handling the sale of the Blue Building.
At Tuesday night’s city meeting, Harvey presented what he called “data points” to members of the McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen where he questioned several aspects of the process.
“What I’m about to say is probably the hardest public thing I’ve ever done and if I’m wrong I’ll take the licks about this,” said Harvey before making his comments.
Among things Harvey asked:
• Why did city officials initially want to accept proposals for the Blue Building for only seven days?
• Why did Alderman Rachel Kirby say she wanted to demolish the Blue Building and then change her mind?
• How did Rachel’s husband, Bobby, get information about another company interested in buying the Blue Building in what was supposed to be a confidential process?
• And why did Bobby Kirby, who is a real estate developer, call and ask him his opinion on the Blue Building project?
In response to his questions, Bobby Kirby says Harvey’s allegations of wrongdoing are absurd.
“For him to slam me in a public meeting and act like I’m doing something unethical is totally off the board,” said Bobby. “I’ve bought property like this using RFPs (requests for proposals) for years in Murfreesboro and all I was doing was calling and asking him for his opinion. I’ve talked to all the board members about this because I’ve learned there’s no reason to take the time to submit a proposal that they’re not interested in. That’s just a waste of my time and theirs. I think his attacks on me and on members of the board are uncalled for. His comments are totally off the mark.”
Before asking his questions, Harvey said he toured the Blue Building in March along with other city officials and members of the city Building and Grounds Committee. The building has been vacant since the Police Department left in November 2009.
“After we went to the building, we basically said it was beyond repair. That seemed to be the consensus at that time,” said Harvey.
The city then declared the Blue Building as surplus property and Harvey said at that time Rachel Kirby suggested it be demolished. City officials then decided to sell the Blue Building by using an RFP process where they accept proposals from private developers. This is different than selling the property to the highest bidder.
Stacey Harvey said it was suggested for the city to only accept proposals for seven days, a window he was able to extend. But he wondered why the city only wanted to accept proposals for one week.
Alderman Steve Harvey said the short window was presented because there was a company interested in the Blue Building and eager to move.
“Their proposal had a lot of contingencies and they were on a strict timeframe,” said Steve. “They needed to know as soon as possible.”
Steve Harvey emphasized he has no outside motivation other than to save the Blue Building.
“My goal from the get-go on this building is to save the building and have somebody fix it. I don’t care who it is,” said Steve, who also answered a question from Stacey Harvey about whether he would be working on the building in his private construction business.
“No, I will not be doing any construction work on that project regardless of who gets it,” said Steve.
Rachel Kirby clarified that she does not want to see the Blue Building removed, but said she was willing to accept that outcome if necessary.
“I would probably never vote to demolish it, but if the numbers speak and the citizens say that’s what they want then yes I would,” said Rachel. “If the numbers checked out that way and that’s what the city wanted, that’s who we represent.”
Rachel Kirby added her aunt has been working on saving the Blue Building for over a decade and that’s how her husband learned of the other company interested in the property.
“My aunt, Rachel Killebrew, wants to save the building before she dies,” said Rachel Kirby. “She has been talking to them for over a year or two. I don’t even know how long. They had a discussion about who would do what. I would have to let him speak more on that himself.”
Vice Mayor Everett Brock did not like Stacey Harvey’s line of questioning.
“What are you alleging here?” asked Brock. He later added, “I want to do what’s best for the city both monetarily and culturally. That’s the only thing that I wanted.”
Stacey Harvey answered that he is only making certain data points which he has discovered in the process. He said he feels it’s his duty as an elected official to point out these findings in an open meeting, even if it’s uncomfortable.
City attorney Tim Pirtle said the Blue Building property has been discussed openly in board meetings the entire 11 years he has served as city attorney. He says he has seen no wrongdoing.
“There was no part of any conspiracy by anybody that you’ve named that I’m aware of,” said Pirtle. “There are controversies that exist as to using the request for proposals mechanism. It’s not something you see very often in small towns.”
Pirtle added, “The last 11 years of discussion I’ve seen a genuine interest from the people who have occupied those chairs so that something can be done about the Blue Building before it falls down on itself. We nearly let that happen to the Park Theater, but we didn’t.”
“I couldn’t have all this data come together and not say anything about it,” said Stacey Harvey, who also questioned the Historic Zoning Commission and whether the Blue Building would be left in the historic district or removed.
Pirtle said the public will be made fully aware of what’s happening with the Blue Building.
“There will be no less than two public meetings on this subject before there can be a final decision by this board,” said Pirtle, who said the meetings would be publically announced and publicized.