Friday, June 6, 2008

Dream Weaver: Waller Lansden Stars In Another Silly Controversy

Posted By on Fri, Jun 6, 2008 at 4:16 PM

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Didn't I already warn my dear friends at Waller Lansden not to do anything on the sly without telling the Scene first? Because we always find out about what they're up to anyway, like that time an aide to Gov. Phil Bredesen says they tried to blackmail him. Good times. So I recently asked the kind folks at Waller if they could just let us know right away any time they do something odd or unusual. This would save us some time since it often takes our sources an hour or two to fill us in on what Waller is doing. But perhaps I didn't make myself clear, because I just now found out that one of the firm's ubiquitous lobbyists and master of the dark arts, James Weaver, is demanding that a Metro Council member tell him if he tipped me to his potential conflict of interest. The council member responded angrily, and now we seem to have another mess on our hands. I swear if there's a pile of shit on a 2-acre parking lot, somebody at Waller will step in it. First, some background. I'm working on a story about whether it's a conflict of interest for Weaver, who lobbies for companies doing business with Metro government, to serve on a Metro board. Weaver is the most prolific lobbyist at the courthouse, with 15 registered clients, including some of the richest developers in the state. He also serves as the chair of the fair board, which is currently deciding whether to move the state fairgrounds and sell the current site to developers. The fair board's next step is develop a list of people and firms who might want to build on the land where the fairgrounds now sits. It's likely that some of Weaver's own clients, including H.G. Hill Realty Company, Gaylord Entertainment Company and Streuver Brothers, may be interested in developing that property, which sits close to several neighborhoods being revitalized, including Woodland-in-Waverly, Rolling Mill Hill and 12 South. Weaver says he would recuse himself if sometime in the future any of his clients makes an actual bid on the property, but for now he says he doesn't have a conflict. I was in the process of sorting through that early this morning when Weaver sent me a friendly email trying to nudge my story in a different direction. He merely suggested that the Scene write an in-depth piece about the future of the fairgrounds. I appreciated his interest in my reporting and emailed him that, for the moment, I was merely looking into his unique situation. That apparently irritated Weaver, who immediately sent Metro Council member Mike Jameson, who is in the midst of a political potboiler, the following email: To:"Michael Jameson" Subject: What say you to this question / statement from the scene. "Thanks James. We will take a longer look at the future of the fairgrounds but for now we want to look a little further into whether there is a conflict of interest for the most prolific lobbyist in Metro to sit on a Metro board. Maybe it's not an issue, maybe it is, I just want to talk to more people and see what the issues may be. " No joke I want a honest answer. J James M. Weaver Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP So what I think is happening here is that a lobbyist is asking an elected official to tell him about a private conversation between him and a reporter. That's how I interpret it at least. As does Jameson apparently, judging by his email back to Weaver: James - This is getting ridiculous, and I tire of those who seem concerned only with their own reputations. I DEFENDED you in response to this same question. I believe my analysis even stated that it would likely be a two-tiered process and that there was therfore no conflict. I think I also added that lawyers join boards all the time for professional exposure. Maybe you think I'm telling you one thing and Matt Pulle another. So tell you what -- I'll copy Mr. Pulle on this Reply with a request that he tell you himself how I answered the question. Ok? Can I go home now? Unless you want to talk about something substantive (like, oh I dunno, people losing their jobs for all the wrong reasons), pleeeease let me get back to work. Mike Jameson In fact, Jameson is telling the truth. He did defend Weaver and made me rethink whether there was a story here after all. And this is the thanks he gets. So now Weaver is back tracking judging by his response to Jameson: Thanks Mike. I asked frankly because Matt raises an important question that I thought you might have incite into. As a lawyer you face these questions. As a good lawyer you have a view that interests me. Sorry to bother you. No need for Matt to tell me what you said James M. Weaver Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP

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