July 5, 2014

Emails illustrate Cannon’s interactions with city staff

As a council member and mayor for more than 20 years, Patrick Cannon had a reputation for helping constituents. A review of his emails shows he often leaned on staff.

Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe to help a strip club owner negotiate with the city, though there isn’t a trace of Cannon in the city’s paperwork about the transaction.

David “Slim” Baucom was concerned about the impact of the Lynx Blue Line extension on his Twin Peeks club on North Tryon Street. He wanted to avoid the city’s demolition of his club, and if that wasn’t possible, he wanted to stay in business as long as he could. He also wanted assurances that he could rebuild on the site.

Cannon asked his political ally, City Council member Michael Barnes, to contact Baucom and help him. At the time, Barnes represented District 4, which was home to Baucom’s club.

Barnes said he didn’t receive any money or favors from Baucom or Cannon. Federal investigators said Barnes didn’t know that Baucom paid Cannon.

“I made an inquiry just as I would for any citizen,” Barnes said.

City emails show Barnes was directly involved in ensuring Baucom’s club could stay open through Race Week in May, which brought Twin Peeks a boost in business.

City documents show that CATS had granted extensions to two other nearby businesses: a bakery and a Honey Baked Ham store. Barnes said he worked with those businesses for that benefit.

In an email to Planning Director Debra Campbell about Baucom in 2013, Barnes said, “Sounds we like we need to have a chat with Mr. Baucom. I know there’ll be pain during the (Blue Line extension) but we don’t want to do damage to folks’ businesses, if we can avoid it.”

Emails also show Baucom considered moving the club to a different site on North Tryon Street.

Barnes told city staff members in an email that keeping the club at its existing location was the “goal.” Barnes told the Observer he didn’t want Twin Peeks to move to what he said was a “more high-profile” location that Baucom had explored.

“It was close to UNC Charlotte,” Barnes said. “I didn’t want that.”

One city email even suggests that Baucom was encouraged to use his political contacts, though it’s unclear who made the suggestion. A consultant hired by the city to assist with buying property along the Blue Line said in an email that Baucom was asked whether he “had any political ties” to help him with his zoning variance to relocate or rebuild.

In the end, Baucom’s club was demolished, but he secured the right to rebuild a similarly sized club on the property – right next to the Blue Line.

Barnes maintains his interactions with city staff on Baucom’s behalf were appropriate. City Manager Ron Carlee has agreed. That suggests that Baucom might have paid Cannon for access that was free.

Carlee said he thought Barnes and staff’s response “appear appropriate and routine.”

“It is my expectation that staff will do everything reasonably possible to accommodate businesses that are impacted by any City construction project,” Carlee said in a statement. “A Council Member’s advocacy for a business or any other constituent in his/her district is a routine expectation. As staff we try to be responsive to all such requests in a manner that is fair, equitable, ethical, and consistent with law and Council policy. Enabling an entertainment business to be open during a race weekend would be no different than helping a retail establishment stay open the shopping weekend after Thanksgiving.”

During more than 20 years in city government, first as council member and later mayor, Cannon had a reputation for helping constituents. A review of his emails shows he often leaned on staff, even for small things.

• In 2010, he lobbied city staff and Duke Energy to meet with homeowners in Fourth Ward to install two street lights on 10th Street. Residents there said it would improve public safety.
• That same year, a CATS customer service request was filled out for Cannon, who asked that a bus stop on Arrowood Road be moved 200 feet away from the intersection with Nations Ford Road. CATS replied to Cannon that it would move the bus stop and that a team would dig a hole to move the bus stop pole shortly.
• In December, three months before his arrest, Cannon asked city officials to re-seed a lawn and pressure-wash the house of a woman who lived on Bancroft Street in north Charlotte. The city had been doing curb and gutter work nearby and the work had left dust and dirt on her house. Cannon asked city officials to make sure her house was tended and cleaned. A city official emailed Cannon’s assistant and asked that he convey to the mayor that the crew was “moving forward as he has requested.”

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