NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Smoking Gun internal documents obtained by News4 investigates show the Briley administration withheld important information from council about how bad metro's water system financial crisis was.
The State Comptrollers Office set a deadline for a metro to present a plan for a water rate increase, but emails and meeting agendas show that discussion never became public until after the mayoral election.
This is important because the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said Wednesday that the water department's financial crisis is so urgent and real that it wouldn't have enough money to make emergency repairs.
This week’s news that metro’s water system is in dire financial straights is not encouraging to Sam Parish, who's been asking metro for more culverts to stop the flooding in his Green Hills neighborhood.
"I'm worried it's never going to happen," said Sam Parish, a homeowner.
Wednesday, Metro council members were dumbfounded to learn the water department’s finances are in such dire straights that the comptroller’s office threatened to take it over more than a year and a half ago.
"We’re not crying wolf. It IS that bad,” said Jason Mumford, Deputy Comptroller.
What’s worse, council members were never told, though the state had been warning metro for three years.
Documents obtained by News 4 show that then-Mayor Briley knew of the financial woes, so did his finance officer, as well as Metro Water's Scott Potter.
Why would the information be withheld from council members and the general public?
Here's the timeline: the state warned Metro water in April 2018 that it must begin studying a rate increase -- that was about 6 weeks before the mayoral election. David Briley had become mayor when Megan Barry resigned in a scandal involving an affair with a member of her protective detail.
In an email written by Potter in March 2018, he referred to the administration’s plan to start discussions about the rate increase at "the beginning of the next administration (August 2019),” in other words - after the election.
News 4 showed Jeremy Elrod, a councilman at the time, the email.
"I don't know of another reason to wait until the next administration to handle. But, it would have been the election, yup,” he said.
"How do you feel about that?" said News 4 Investigator Nancy Amons.
"It's frustrating," Elrod said.
Councilmembers are now bristling that at city's budget hearings in May, Potter never mentioned the state's order - instead, painting a picture that all was well.
When asked by council members about that on Wednesday, Potter indicated he was following the chain of command.
Internal documents from 2019 show that there was internal concern that the state’s mandatory rate increase would be discovered before it was “found out.”
News 4 obtained an agenda for a meeting to be held in the mayor’s office on June 27, 2019 on the topic of “rate discussion.” The author of the agenda isn’t identified.
The agenda says the timeline should be discussed for submitting legislation for a proposed water rate increase.
The author suggests submitting legislation for the August 20, 2019 meeting, warning that “it will become public on or before the August 31 date”. That was the deadline for Metro to submit a progress report on its proposed rate increase plan to the comptroller’s office.
“If we wait, it will become public on or before the August 31 date. It will undoubtedly be shared. We seek go with this timeline so that it will be purposely shared, transparent instead of being “found out” or look like we are hiding something.”
Source: Agenda for June 27, 2019 meeting on water rates
But that release never happened in August. Council was not made aware of the desperate financial woes until October – in the weeks after a new mayor was sworn in.