The owner of Global Green Lighting said a City Council resolution regarding the disposal of millions of dollars worth of lights sold to the city should include an apology to his company.
Don Lepard said Mayor Andy Berke and City Attorney Wade Hinton conspired to discredit his company.
The council today was to consider a resolution that is critical of former City Attorney Hinton, saying he failed to inform the City Council of an agreement with the owner of Global Green Lighting involving over $6 million in lights bought by the city.
The resolution says attorney Hinton worked out a deal with Mr.
Lepard in which lawsuits between the firm and the city were dropped and the city agreed that he could take back the remaining lights from a city warehouse. Mr. Lepard afterward picked up the lights.
The resolution says the settlement agreement "was not properly maintained or properly provided to the City Council in a public meeting during the time of execution and transfer of lights in June of 2018," and it "resulted in confusion and delayed action by the City Council on this matter.
City Auditor Stan Sewell had reported that when city auditors went to a city warehouse to inventory the more than $6 million they found that the lights were gone. He said the city had still been carrying them on its books.
The lights were bought during the Ron Littlefield administration as part of a planned $18 million purchase touted as saving the city $36 million over 15 years, plus providing security features.
Governor Bill Haslam was on hand at the launch of the new lighting system. He said, "This is another symbol of how Chattanooga's leading, really our country, in manufacturing."
When the Andy Berke administration came into office, the deal was canceled. Mayor Berke said hidden costs associated with the lights proved expensive and EPB had begun removing them after finding them inferior.
This is a letter sent by Mr. Lepard to City Council Chairman Chip Henderson:
October 20, 2020
The Honorable Chip Henderson
Chattanooga City Council
1000 Lindsay St.
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Dear Chairman Henderson:
As the Council prepares to act on Tuesday October 20, 2020, on a resolution that would approve the 2018 global settlement agreement between Global Green Lighting (GGL), it will bring to an end seven years of attacks against a reputation I spent decades building in Chattanooga.
Nothing I see in the resolution addresses the fact on July 2, in a leaked Office of Internal Audit report, the City all but accused me publicly of stealing millions of dollars of City property. As a reminder, the report leaked to NewsChannel 9 and The Chattanoogan said, “Therefore, per terms of the agreement, GGL did not have the right to take possession of the City’s light fixtures.”
Within 24 hours, I had four calls from people asking me if I was selling stolen City lights. No matter what you do with this vote , I am still asking for a formal, public apology from the City Council recognizing the City removed a working LED street lighting infrastructure and request the state comptroller to conduct a true, complete government regulated audit or a TBI investigation that exposes the people who did indeed mislead the City Council – former City Attorney turned Chattanooga mayoral candidate Wade Hinton on behalf of Mayor Andy Berke.
Ask yourself why you are approving a settlement that was signed on June 6, 2018? The answer is that Mr. Hinton did not want to come to you requesting $144,250 be paid to GGL. Why would Mr. Hinton not want to do that? Because to do so meant Mr. Hinton would have to admit that the GGL streetlights you were told for years was dysfunctional and did not work had in fact never stopped working right up to the day EPB took them down. That was established in an affidavit from Mr. Blythe Baily in a breach of contract lawsuit GGL filed over the $144,250 invoice that Mr. Hinton refused to pay.
The fact that the City admitted in October 2017 court documents that the GGL lights were working unravels the years of lies perpetuated on the City Council by Mayor Berke. The fact that working lights were replaced by EPB lights at a 30% higher cost speaks to the reason Mayor Berke pulled the GGL contract in the first few days of his administration in 2013: The record shows that the EPB did not like the innovative lighting program and wanted it stopped. Mayor Berke, with a later assist from Mr. Hinton, complied. Fearful of the advertising power of the EPB, there was little reporting on the streetlight controversy.
There is indisputable evidence that Mr. Hinton knew GGL was removing the lights on June 12, 2018, evidence you received on August 13, 2020. Yet, Mr. Hinton lied twice to Mr. Sewell, as reflected in the leaked “draft” audit. In essence, the city attorney of Chattanooga gave away City property that had a book value of $5.8 million simply to avoid the Berke administration having to admit it has misled the City Council for the past seven years.
All I was seeking was $144,250 to pay for services rendered on lights I knew worked. Mr. Hinton, no doubt with the full knowledge of Mayor Berke, decided that the price of maintaining silence on all of the damaging evidence discovered against the Berke administration and EPB in a Global Settlement Agreement was $5.8 million (book value) of City property. At the least, this is gross negligence on the part of the Berke administration, at its worst, this worthy of a review by the Tennessee State Comptroller’s office.
It is fitting that what started as an intentional witch hunt by Mayor Berke just days into his administration would end with the most egregious of the many lies told to the Council and the community for seven years, this one apparently to protect his choice to succeed him as mayor.
I urge the City Council not to become complicit in the Berke administration corruption surrounding GGL’s relationship with the City. Now that you have full knowledge of the facts, I hope you will do the right thing and publicly apologize for the slanderous language used against me in the leaked “draft” audit while seeking a deeper investigation into how the offices of the mayor, and city attorney could get so far off the rails.
Approval of the global settlement requires me to abide by the non-disparagement clause in the agreement, and I will do so as I have done for the previous two years. I do, however, retain the right per the agreement to challenge allegations made against me and GGL. I give you my pledge until such time as the record is publicly corrected, I intend to do just that.