Acting Mayor Briley ‘Doesn’t Have Any Comment’ on Carol Swain’s Call for Resignation of Rich Riebeling, Metro Nashville Official at Center of Financial Scandals

Rich Riebeling w Acting Mayor Briley

By Tennessee Star Staff  |   Tennessee Star

Acting Mayor of Nashville David Briley has no comment on election day rival Carol Swain’s call for Metro Nashville Government’s Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling to resign.

“Mayor Briley doesn’t have any comment,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told The Tennessee Star late Sunday in response to a request for comment on Swain’s call Friday for Riebeling’s resignation, in light of the $7 million federal funding scandal that originated in 2010 and 2011 when Riebeling served as director of finance in former Mayor Karl Dean’s administration.

Two polls conducted prior to the May 1 transit referendum put Briley in first place in the May 24 special mayoral election in which Nashville/Davidson County voters will select a mayor to complete the remaining one year and three months in the term of disgraced former Mayor Megan Barry, who resigned on March 6, the same day she plead guilty to a felony. Both polls showed Swain in a distant second.

Briley has stumbled badly in recent weeks, however.

His first misstep came when he backed the $9 billion transit plan introduced by Barry before her March resignation. Voters in Nashville/Davidson County soundly rejected that Barry-Briley plan on Tuesday by a 64 percent 36 percent margin.

Then, he appealed to his far left base by calling for more gun control after a 29-year-old man from Illinois shot and killed four people at a Waffle House in Antioch.

Now, Briley has failed on three occasions since he was sworn in on March 6 to ask for the resignation of Riebeling, Metro Nashville’s Chief Operating Officer under both Barry and now Briley, who has been at the center of several recent financial scandals, and has come to epitomize the arrogant lack of accountability and financial controls that has characterized Metro Nashville Government for the past decade.

Briley’s first opportunity to ask for Riebeling’s resignation came on March 6, his first day in office.

It had been publicly reported a month earlier that Riebeling was the key figure in the Barry administration’s inappropriate changes to Metro Nashville’s expense approval process that allowed former Mayor Barry’s lover and bodyguard, former Metro Nashville Police Department Sergeant Rob Forrest to obtain approval for travel alone with Barry to exotic locations such as Athens Greece, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

The Tennessee Star reported these facts when the story broke on February 10:

Since first admitting to a two year long extramarital affair with the head of her security detail, Sgt. Rob Forrest, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has maintained that Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson insisted that a security detail travel with her at all times, and that all of Forrest’s travel with her was approved by the Metro Nashville Police Department.

But in a blockbuster report that aired on Friday, NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams revealed that documents obtained from the Mayor’s office which purport to show Chief Anderson approved Forrest’s travel with her are factually incorrect.

As The Tennessee Star has reported, Mayor Barry and Sgt. Forrest traveled alone together at taxpayer expense on nine occasions in 2017 on trips to Athens, Greece, San Francisco, California, and Washington, D.C., among other places.

They also traveled together when accompanied by other Metro Nashville employees to other cities, including one memorable trip from October 20 to 25 of 2017 to Paris, France.

“As the city hall scandal unfolded, Police Chief Anderson insisted he never approved Sgt. Rob Forrest’s travel with Nashville Mayor Megan Barry,” NewsChannel 5 anchor Rhori Johnston began the report.

“But documents released today by the Mayor’s office say he did. So what’s the truth?” Johnston’s co-anchor asked.

As it turns out, the documents released by the Mayor’s office–an area over which Riebeling held sway–were factually untrue, as The Star reported:

In a Travel Authorization form submitted by Sgt. Forrest on October 4 at 3:02 pm for the October 20 to 25 trip to Paris with Mayor Barry and other Metro Nashville employees, the “history” section claimed that the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Deborah Mason, was notified of the request at 3:02 pm and that Police Chief Steve Anderson purportedly approved the request at 5:45 pm, at which time Eugene Nolan, Deputy Director of the Finance Department, was notified. Nolan approved the request the following day, on October 5 at 12:22 pm, at which time the request was deemed “completed.”

When NewsChannel 5 pointed out this error to the Mayor’s office, they called it “a glitch.”

But a more troubling explanation may apply as well.

Chief of Staff Mason was notified at 3:02 pm, but inexplicably, Police Chief Anderson was not.

The system appears to be set up so that an approval can come only after an individual has received a notification.

But the notification sent to Mason was immediately followed by an approval, purportedly by Anderson, according to the Mayor’s office. But Anderson was never notified.

Somehow, the system may have been manipulated by an unknown individual so that Chief Anderson’s appeared as the approver when, in fact, another individual was the approver.

It was Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling who authorized Mayor Barry’s Chief of Staff Debbie Mason to approve Forrest’s travel requests in a way that the next approver in the system–Eugene Nolan, Deputy Director of the Finance Department–would see in the system the incorrect information that Chief Anderson, not Mason, authorized those approvals, as The Star reported on February 13, citing original reporting by The Tennessean:

Three members of Mayor Barry’s staff and the department head of Information Technology Services are scrambling to explain just exactly how it came to be that travel by her security chief and lover, Sgt. Rob Forrest, was not authorized by Police Chief Steve Anderson, as documents the Mayor’s office gave to NewsChannel 5 and Fox17 on Friday purported, but was instead authorized by her Chief of Staff, Debby Mason.

“Instead of following a longstanding policy that the police department pay for the travel expenses incurred by officers on Barry’s security detail, the mayor’s office began approving and paying for those expenses out of its own budget,” The Tennessean reported.

“Months after Mayor Megan Barry began an extramarital affair with her bodyguard [which Mayor Barry told WSMV on Friday began in spring of 2016], one of the mayor’s top aides, [Chief Operating Officer] Rich Riebeling, made an ‘unusual’ change to security protocol,” The Tennessean reported late Monday.

“Instead of following a longstanding policy that the police department pay for the travel expenses incurred by officers on Barry’s security detail, the mayor’s office began approving and paying for those expenses out of its own budget,” The Tennessean reported.

“The mayor’s chief of staff Debby Dale Mason assumed the authority to approve travel expenses on October 11, 2016, for all of the mayor’s bodyguards, including Forrest,” The Tennessean added.

Apparently no one in the Mayor’s office, however, informed the official who had the legal authority to approve those expenses, Police Chief Steve Anderson.

Of even greater concern, subsequent to the October 11, 2016 move to grant that approval authority to Mason and remove it from Chief Anderson without his knowledge or consent, the Metro Nashville Government’s Information Technology system falsely showed that Chief Anderson had approved those expenses. The Mayor’s office calls this inexplicable occurrence a “computer glitch,” but it is almost certainly not a system glitch, and instead a change made within the system by an unknown authorized individual.

Briley’s second opportunity to ask for Riebeling’s resignation came on March 19, when Riebeling admitted to spending $135,000 on a soccer stadium design that had not been authorized.

That money, as it turns out, was paid by Metro Nashville/Davidson County Government to a company called Commonwealth Development, whose owner, Larry Atema, has been friends with Riebeling “for decades,” WSMV reported:

Atema has been using some of $12 million earmarked for Fairgrounds improvements for work on the MLS stadium.

Metro Council set aside the money for Fairgrounds upgrade, like painting and repairing air-conditioning units, but our investigation found Atema hired architects and engineers for design work on the MLS stadium, which hasn’t been approved by the council yet.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars are going for something we haven’t approved yet!” Glover exclaimed. . .

The I-Team asked how the bills would be paid.

“That’s up to the finance department,” Atema said.

Amons asked Atema who authorized him to begin planning work for the new soccer stadium.

“Who told me?” Atema replied. “I was asked by the chief operating officer to start looking into it, and how it might happen, and how we might integrate it into the life of this project — more than a year ago.”

He was referring to Metro’s Chief Operating Officer, Rich Riebeling. The two have been friends for decades.

“We do talk and visit,” Atema said. “And these complicated projects require trust.”

On March 19 WSMV reported: “spending for the proposed Major League Soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds . . . hasn’t got approval from the Metro Council yet:

The I-Team found the Rich Riebeling, the city’s chief operating officer, authorized hiring architects and planners to get started.

Riebeling sent Metro Council members a letter on Monday admitting spending $135,000 without permission. That money was taken from the arena budget.

The Nashville Sports Authority didn’t know that until told by News 4’s Nancy Amons.
Riebeling has apologized and said he won’t spend any more money on the soccer stadium without prior approval.

“When you get to our age, you know better. You don’t do that,” said Councilman Steve Glover. “When you’ve been in government as long as he and I have been, you don’t do that.”

You can read Riebeling’s letter of admission here.

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