Mayor Cooper responds to concerns over reporting of COVID-19 numbers, relief money spending

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper is taking heat from all angles this week, including e-mails raising concerns over reporting of COVID-19 numbers, as well as the governor questioning how he spent coronavirus relief funding.

Cooper tells News 2 he understands the music and hospitality industries have suffered the most in this pandemic, but that he is taking care of his city, as a whole, adding the state should be focusing on taking care of businesses.

“We had the potential for being the mega super-spreader in the country, so we had to recognize that and deal with it pretty effectively ahead of time,” Mayor Cooper said explaining why he kept bars closed for so long.

Mayor Cooper said that an email from the health department discouraging his staff from releasing COVID-19 numbers due to being “low per site” only meant that they didn’t want people to think low numbers meant bars were safe.

“A case in a crowded bar, in a crowded bar with people shouting, that’s more than a case right? And then how do you communicate that to people,” said Cooper. “And then our caution in communication was actually airing in protecting bars.”

The email is now in a lawsuit claiming the mayor discriminated against bars, the attorney on the representing the bars Bryan Lewis says much larger COVID-19 outbreaks were reported in places like construction sites.

Construction was deemed essential across the country, “We needed that part of the economy to go ahead and it was not public-facing. I’m not here exposing an unlimited number of people who are coming here expecting the city to be safe. This is a teamwork approach on a site,” explained Cooper.

Due to the pandemic closures, thousands of people have lost jobs and the hospitality industry has taken a huge financial hit.

The state gave Nashville $121.1 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury for relief funding in July. Mayor Cooper requested more and Governor Bill Lee responded Thursday in a news conference, not directly denying the city’s request, but saying they would not add additional funding to Nashville.

“Metro Nashville in fact, per capita, has received more federal funding than any other county in the state through this pandemic,” said Lee. “That’s why I responded to the mayor and said that we would not be adding additional funding to Metro Nashville, per his request.”

News 2 asked Cooper: “You’ve got the governor saying, ‘Why are you asking for more money when you haven’t given it to our businesses?'”

He responded, “Well, I’m asking for more money because our state has a lot of money from our CARES account that they have not spent yet.”

So where has the $121.1 million gone?

A special committee has allocated nearly $94 million so far:

  • Metro’s emergency COVID-19 response (estimated costs through 12/30/20): $48.8 million
  • Remote learning support for MNPS students and teachers: $24 million
  • Rent, mortgage, and utility assistance for Davidson County residents: $10 million
  • Small business grants and technical support: $5.7 million
  • Essential Metro services conducted through non-profit organizations: $2.8 million
  • Funding to reduce food insecurity: $2.5 million

News 2 asked, “So $5.7 million has gone to businesses, is that enough?”

Cooper replied, “No… no, and that’s why we’ve carefully laid out what our additional needs are. The needs and the money aren’t connected.”

“The state has taken the leadership in helping small business. So out of their $2.3 billion, they’ve been sending it to small business right, that’s a great need, but then that means we can be people focused on our money too, but now we’re not ignoring small business, we just have so little of it,” said Cooper.

Cooper concluded that he will request the committee to look at giving more money to businesses and if the governor grants the city more state funding, he will allocate more to businesses.

Cooper released a statement Friday afternoon addressing the report filed by another Nashville television station and is expecting an apology.

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