Thursday, August 06, 2009

This week the local political beat belongs to Caleb Hannan; the other reporters are just visiting (part 1)

Periodically someone e-mails me, tells me they have a story that needs some media attention, and asks me which local reporters I would contact first. On those occasions I usually have two at the top of my list and the Nashville Scene's Caleb Hannan is one of them. Caleb has affirmed my confidence in his ability to probe Nashville's leadership class without flinching twice this week so far.

The first was with a piece in Wednesday's regular weekly edition delving into Tony Giarrantana's dubious early history in Nashville in bankruptcy. Here is part of Caleb's account of a developer teetering that fine line between making his sale and bringing down the house around him:
Months prior, H.A.W. Inc., a demolition company out of Lewisburg, had obtained a $150,000 judgment for non-payment against three partnerships that, for all intents and purposes, were owned by Giarratana and his investors.

H.A.W. had spent 10 months painstakingly removing asbestos from the Tennessee Theater, to prevent the harmful carcinogen from going airborne when the building fell. When Giarratana filed for bankruptcy, they went after him personally to recover their money.

In interrogatories filed by H.A.W.'s lawyers and obtained by the Scene, the company went digging through Giarratana's financial disclosures. They even asked about a property not even listed in the bankruptcy proceedings: the intended site of 555 Church Street, which no longer belonged to the mogul. On Oct. 16, 1991, less than a year before his bankruptcy filing, a joint venture of which Giarratana was president had transferred ownership of the Church Street property to a limited partnership called 555 Partners. Original investors in the property made up half of the new partnership. The other half was owned by a corporation, of which Giarratana's wife Lisa was the sole shareholder.

The interrogatories don't specify what H.A.W. and its attorneys hoped to find. Whatever the case, H.A.W.'s lawyers spent six months filing extensions while sorting through the myriad complexities of high-stakes real-estate financing. Nearly a year after receiving their judgment, H.A.W. called Giarratana in for a deposition. It was not an amicable meeting.

"Tony exploded," recalls one witness. "He went into a rage."
It is a seat-of-his-pants, potentially disasterous picture that Caleb discloses, and you should go read the rest. This is the kind of in depth investigation of depositions against Tony Giarratana during the late 80s/early 90s that I've been calling for since I started receiving messages months ago from sources close to the proceedings who either would not allow me to quote them or who remained anonymous. Caleb also mentions that many of Tony G's critics prefer to remain anonymous and off-record.

Not being a professional journalist paid for free time to research and report and not being connected to a media outlet with a stable of lawyers, I did not believe that I could blog on some of the claims of depositions against Giarratana that I was reading earlier in the summer. Giarratana is a public figure, so freedom of expression may allow me to blog my opinion as opinion (as long as I don't show malice), but I did not think that I could pass on information that might undermine the developer's credibility without documentation beyond personal e-mails or witnesses' self-disclosure.

Hence, I'm glad a reporter and a newspaper stepped up and backfilled information on Tony Giarratana's character before the May Town Center proposal passes. I believe Caleb's account indicates that while the developer may have good intentions, Nashville needs to be very careful in trusting that Mr. Giarratana will act in our community's best interest. His overreach and misplaced self-confidence could lead to unfortunate consequences for Nashville in Bells Bend. He seems to do best with stricter controls than with free reign. May Town Center is probably a viable project, but Metro leaders need to place limits on where his team is allowed to place it and on the drama he attempts to bring to it.

1 comment:

  1. Tony has surfaced again, this time with a trio of renderings for projects that won't work without a huge subsidy from taxpayers. After revamping his website and posting the glossies he did a sit down interview with the Lipscomb dean, who mostly fawned all over the model and Tony. Only William Williams bit, gushing praise over Tony and splashing the renderings all over the CityPaper website. After watching the interview it's obvious Tony is now trying to position himself for taxpayer funding. This will be worth watching.