Two Mt. Juliet commissioners are significantly involved – one as a landowner and one as a real estate agent – in two properties being considered for purchase or use by the city, leading to the filing of ethics complaints against them by other members of the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Scott Hefner owns land that is adjacent to property being considered as the site for a new city hall. The proposal includes plans for residential and retail space. Ethics complaints filed by Mayor James Maness and Commissioner Jennifer Milele say that Hefner approached the project’s developers to get his land improperly rezoned into the plans for that project.
Hefner, also a member of the city’s planning commission, filed an ethics complaint against Maness and Milele on Oct. 26, saying that the complaint filed against him violates the city code requiring a “good faith basis for allegations based on first-hand knowledge” and that the allegations against him are based entirely on conversations other commissioners had with developers and other third-parties.
Commissioner Ray Justice, the current longest-serving commissioner, is the seller’s real estate agent for property at 1025 Charlie Daniels Parkway adjacent to Charlie Daniels Park and the Mt. Juliet Police headquarters. An ethics complaint filed by Vice-Mayor Bill Trivett says that Justice knew of the city’s interest in the property and misused his authority to become involved in the sale and attempted to make a private purchase in the city’s name.
City attorney Gino Marchetti announced the filing of the four ethics complaints at the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting but did not provide any details. He also told the commissioners not to contact each other or the members of the ethics commission about the complaints, nor discuss them at all with anyone. Main Street Media filed a public records request with the city to obtain the ethics complaints filings.
Hefner did not attend the Nov. 13 meeting but was present for the Nov. 16 planning commission meeting. He recused himself from a vote about the property at a planning commission meeting in August.
According to city ordinances, an appointed ethics commission will meet to investigate the complaints. A city commissioner found to have violated the city’s ethics policy may be censured by the city commission. According to city records, the five members of the Ethics Committee are Matt Smith, Sandy Epperson, Billy McMahan, Sam English and Yancy Belcher.
According to city ordinance, the ethics commission meetings “shall be held in public.” There were no ethics commission meeting notices, agendas or minutes posted on the city website as of Nov. 19.
Maness’ complaint filed on Sept. 14 says that on Aug. 15 he called Matt Gardner, partner of Imagine1 which is the development company for the proposed city hall project. During the 41-minute call (a transcript is part of Maness’ complaint), Gardner says he and the other developers felt pressured by Hefner to include the commissioner’s property in the new city hall plan.
Maness also tells Gardner that he believes Imagine1 is “being used to get some zoning that the property owner wouldn’t be entitled to otherwise.”
Maness’ complaint says two other developers – Mike Murphy of Cumberland Advisors LLC and Tulsi Patel of Tulit Investments – expressed concerns to the mayor that Hefner withdrew his support of their two high-profile projects in the city after they refused to give Hefner developmental rights (Murphy) and hire a friend of Hefner’s to help build part of the development (Patel).
Maness wrote that Murphy and Patel have agreed to provide details of their contact with Hefner for the ethics committee’s formal investigation.
Hefner purchased a 19,600 square foot single-family home on East Hill Street last March located about one-quarter mile from the current city hall location. His complaint says Maness is using the ethics code improperly and for political gain and requested an ethics investigation of the mayor.
Some East Hill Street homeowners have spoken at city commission meetings to oppose the development plan.
Milele filed her complaint against Hefner on Sept. 25. She claims that Hefner bought the property with the intent of including it in the new city hall plan for personal gain; that Hefner lied in an Aug. 28 executive meeting when he said developers approached him for his property to be included (Milele says both developers told her that is not true); and that Hefner made a motion for $1 million to be included in the budget for a design of a new city hall when no purchase offer had been made for city property at that time.
Milele’s complaint also includes a paraphrasing of a comment from Mt. Juliet developer Mark Lineberry that Hefner wanted his property included in the PUD plan.
Charlie Daniels Parkway property
According to the ethics complaint Trivett filed, he had a discussion with Parks Director Rocky Lee in March of 2023 about the 6,500 square foot building, formerly a childcare center. Trivett wrote that he asked Justice for help in contacting the property owner because of Justice’s real estate background.
Trivett wrote that during the summer Justice responded with information about the property owners and also wrote that he and Lineberry had decided to purchase the property. Trivett wrote that he contacted Marchetti, who determined that Justice had broken no law. In an Oct. 2 email from Justice to City Manager Kenny Martin, Justice writes that he has discussed this “with the city attorney to insure (sic) that we are in compliance with all federal, state and local laws.”
Trivett’s complaint against Justice, filed Nov. 8, said that another attorney in Marchetti’s firm later determined that a state law prohibits a current commissioner from selling land to the city after the fact.
Martin had written an email to commissioners saying that Justice and Lineberry had a contract offer on the property. The email says that the original asking price was $1.75 million, the revised asking price was $1.625 million and the city’s appraisal report had the property at $1.56 million. Justice replied in an email to Martin that the $1.75 million offer is the same price that the city paid for the adjacent land for the proposed new police headquarters.
On Oct. 20, Martin sent an email to all of the commissioners except Justice that said the property owners “are willing to accept appraised value offer,” according to Justice.
According to the Wilson County property records office the current owner is D&D Investments of Nashville which purchased the property for $305,585 in May of 2002.
In an email sent on Oct. 2 to Martin, Justice wrote that a standard commission for a Realtor is 6% of the sales price but that he would waive his commission if the city bought the property. Justice writes that would save the city $105,000.
On Oct. 3, Justice sent an email to Marchetti stating that if Marchetti was “more comfortable, I’m fine using my personal email for any correspondence regarding this matter. Your call.” There is nothing in the records provided by the city that a personal email was used.
On Oct. 6, Martin wrote another email to commissioners saying that Justice contacted him to tell him that he and Lineberry were no longer interested in purchasing the property. Instead, Martin wrote, Justice said he would be serving as the broker.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, the commissioners approved by a 4-0 vote (with Justice abstaining) to authorize Martin to begin negotiations with the property owner for a possible sale.