NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – Emails from Robert Swope’s government account reveal how the Metro Council member has repeatedly mixed Council business with his private business.
It comes as his colleagues are already considering a possible ethics investigation, and Swope continues to insist that he has never attempted to do business directly with the City of Nashville.
“At no time did I ask this town for a dime, a dime, an agreement, a memorandum of understanding or even a letter of intent,” Swope said last week in a WWTN radio interview. .
Do you have additional information for our inquiry?
The emails, obtained through an application under the Tennessee Public Records Act, provide more information about Swope’s relationship with Memphis architect Paul Doherty and how their company, The Digit Group (TDG) , relied on the connections of the Swope Council.
They apparently met at a conference in Yinchuan, China.
“What a pleasure to meet you in Yinchuan,” Swope sent Doherty on September 25, 2017.
“Good times my new friend.”
The emails suggest that Doherty laid out his ideas for public transportation, as well as a concept where electricity could be produced from the movements of people – claims that, our investigation found, Doherty sometimes greatly exaggerated.
“Would love to see the electric bus you have if possible?” Please let me know, ”Swope continued.
“I’ve spoken with my parents before in Nashville and we’re excited about your buses and, more importantly, your kinetic energy solutions. I look forward to meeting again to discuss these things further.
Six months later, Swope introduced Doherty at a press event in Nashville to present a futuristic take on Nashville mass transit, using autonomous and autonomous vehicles.
At this point, some of Swope’s emails identify him as “Managing Director” for TDG Media, as well as a Metro city councilor.
Swope and Doherty quickly set their sights on the Metro Transit Authority’s electric vehicle program with Doherty on June 20, 2018, emailing a colleague about a contract MTA already had with another company.
“Robert thinks that if we can save on the unit cost, we could take over the deliverable contract,” Doherty wrote.
“I encourage TDG, in addition to the unit deliverable, to also take a position on the maintenance and repair phase / contract… and on the charging station contract. “
Responding to NewsChannel 5’s questions about the email, Swope called it a “private communication between business partners” and insisted that “nothing ever happened regarding the content.”
As NewsChannel 5 survey previously revealed, Doherty has started making public statements, mistakenly claiming that the City of Nashville has already passed its transit plan.
Behind the scenes in Nashville, Swope was pushing for a pilot program that his PowerPoint said involved his company leasing transit vehicles in the city.
Then, when Amazon decided to establish a major downtown presence and lobbied the board to approve incentives, the Metro board member presented his proposal to the company.
On March 2, 2019, using his Council email, Swope sent his transit plan, along with a pilot program proposal, to Amazon representatives.
“I await your comments on each one! Swope wrote.
“I think there are many ways that Amazon and Intelligent Transit can work together in implementing these ideas, and I also welcome your thoughts regarding a mutual working relationship.”
The very next day, Doherty was already suggesting to a potential investor that deals with Amazon and others could be imminent.
“Robert presented this to local government and state officials in Tennessee, as well as senior management at Amazon,” Swope’s business partner sent to the investor.
“We have confirmation of government matching funds for this pilot program of approximately $ 30 million. We need to raise $ 15 million to meet our matching fund budget.
“This week, Amazon is communicating with Robert on the amount of funding they will provide.”
Doherty also suggested that Colin Reed of Ryman Hospitality Properties had “verbally committed to invest in the pilot project with the exact amount to be agreed shortly.”
He continued, “Robert and I spoke this weekend and believe we will need to raise $ 5-10 million regardless of Amazon or Mr. Reed.”
Swope quickly retaliated.
“Be careful what you say here, brother,” Swope sent to Doherty.
“You put me in a position that no one wins if you’re not very aware of what you write. The same goes for the other emails you’ve sent to our friends overseas.
Swope ended in an enigmatic: “Monkey gently grabbed slowly.”
“The point is to get these guys to hang on… we don’t need to bring them back if Amazon bites,” the partner sent by email.
Response from Swope: “I want BOTH to bite … and swallow.”
Responding to questions from NewsChannel 5, Swope said Amazon officials were keen to discuss the pending legislation, which allowed him to suggest the common commercial interest.
“It is not illegal for two business owners to meet privately and discuss business,” Swope said.
A few days later, on March 8, 2019, Swope emailed the director of Ryman Properties regarding possible assistance for their pilot program.
“There are a number of good things surrounding this proposal, including ongoing funding conversations from TVA, TDEC, TDOT, MTA, RTA, the Office of Mayors and the Office of Governors for Energy Programs,” said Swope, “not to mention the enthusiastic conversations with Amazon and General Motors about their involvement.
He suggested that Ryman Properties was “the key to the success of this initiative, and I want you to know that your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated as we move forward”.
A spokesperson for Ryman Hospitality Properties said NewsChannel 5 survey, “Our team members met with City Councilor Swope to review the smart transit plan and ultimately decided we were not interested in the project. “
As for Doherty’s claims that Colin Reed had “verbally committed to providing investments,” the spokesperson said: “The suggestions that someone from Ryman Hospitality Properties has verbally committed funds to the project are false. .
Swope has dismissed these emails as “private” matters.
“If there is an irregularity, it is simply that my Council account has been used for private business, which occasionally happens to every Council member,” he added.
Still, the Metro Council member continued his efforts to use his position to make deals for his business.
As NewsChannel 5 survey previously reported, another email shows that, less than a month after John Cooper was sworn in in October 2019, Swope was pushing for official approval from the new mayor and other city officials.
“I’m asking for a letter. Nothing more. A simple letter stating that the City of Nashville supports the efforts that my company (TDG) is prepared to invest over $ 50 million to achieve, ”wrote Swope.
It’s not clear whether Swope and Doherty needed this letter for investors – or some other reason.
But, in November 2019, from his government account, Swope emailed the potential investor: “We are entering into a huge investment deal which grants us the necessary funding to implement our smart transportation plans. in Nashville starting in the first quarter of 2020. “
He also added, “Paul and I have merged our companies. We are now equal partners in TDG.
Weeks later, the duo again tried to pressure the mayor to adopt his plan, drawing warnings from his colleagues about potential ethical issues.
Last April, Swope’s partner again wanted a “letter of proposal from the mayor” on a development project so that they could “obtain operational liquidity”.
A month later, Swope proposed a $ 500 million “loan deal” between his company and the city.
Metro’s ethics laws prohibit board members from using their positions to attempt to influence any decision in which they might have a financial interest.
Buried in Swope’s emails, NewsChannel 5 survey also discovered another curious example.
In 2017, Swope sponsored a zoning change that paved the way for a self-storage facility in his neighborhood, located right next to a residential area.
Somehow, when the developer shared his plans for the grand opening, the metro board member had stumbled upon the company’s contract for its solar power installation.
He sent an email to his business partner.
“Look in this chain of emails,” Swope told Doherty. “There is a dropbox URL that you will find interesting. The whole contract with Light Wave … and the technical diagrams.
“Let’s change that …”
Response from Doherty: “US $ 240,000?!? LOL …
Also from his Metro account, Swope emailed the developer who requested the zoning change: “Give us a week and save a ton of dollars.”
The developer told NewsChannel 5 that he can’t recall whether Swope or Doherty ever made him an offer, although he insisted there was never a deal with their company.
“I understand that you are on the road to war here,” he wrote, “and you are now at least in the 7th story about me questioning the job I am doing. got elected for which I spend almost 40-50 hours doing my best. I can for my constituents. A job that is supposed to be part-time.