Nashville Mayor Ousts Top Staff, Including One Of The City's Most Powerful Advisors | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Mayor Ousts Top Staff, Including One Of The City's Most Powerful Advisors

Jun 26, 2018

A shakeup in Mayor David Briley's office will mean the departure of two top aides, including chief operating officer Rich Riebeling — a longtime advisor who's been one of Metro's most power officials.

Briley announced Tuesday that Riebeling and chief of staff Debby Dale Mason will be stepping down in the coming months, bringing to 10 the number of staffers who have left since Briley took over for Mayor Megan Barry in March.

Emily Passini, a longtime adviser to Briley's political campaigns, will take over next month as chief of staff.

But it's the departure of Riebeling that's likely to have the greater impact.

For more than a decade, Riebeling has been at the table during just about every key Metro decision — especially on spending. An investment banker before Mayor Karl Dean brought him on staff in 2007 as the city's finance director, Riebeling negotiated economic development packages, land deals and the creation of the Music City Center and First Tennessee Park.

He was also the gatekeeper for the city budget, including through the recession, and he was quick to engage in feisty debates with council members.

But with his influence came criticisms — sometimes about decisions made without enough input from the council or the public. Riebeling apologized this year for pushing ahead prematurely on design work on the new soccer stadium. And some have worried about his willingness to take on debt for large civic projects.

Still, Mayor David Briley praised Riebeling as laying the foundation for Nashville’s “unprecedented” growth.

"He has helped to facilitate unprecedented economic opportunity, investment and development as Nashville has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities," Briley said in a prepared statement. "In that work, he has been instrumental in improvements across Metro Nashville, in our schools, parks, libraries, neighborhoods, public safety and infrastructure."

Mason's tenure with the city was considerably shorter. She joined in late 2015 under Barry, after working as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce's chief community development officer.

Mason was much less visible than Riebeling, though perhaps closer personally to the previous mayor. When Barry decided to resign following revelations that she'd had an affair with the head of her security detail, it fell to Mason to maintain morale on a beleagured staff.

Yet Briley, who last month won a special election to finish out the remaining year on Barry's term, said it was time to make a fresh start with a new chief of staff, Passini.

"Emily is an incredible talent," Briley said. "She has keen knowledge of and strong relationships with Metro Government and Metro Council members, and she’s familiar with my policy priorities. I am confident that her sharp organizational skills and strategic focus will drive progress and results for the city."