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.