The newest details about our corrupt former mayor aren’t nearly as attention grabbing as the bad behavior Patrick Cannon was accused of when he was arrested back in March. Instead of a briefcase stuffed with $20,000, there’s an alleged payout of a couple grand in court documents unsealed Monday. Instead of paid trips to Las Vegas and a free SouthPark apartment, there are possible zoning approvals and a meeting with city transportation officials.
But the latest accusations, which Cannon reportedly will plead guilty to today, should be at least as troubling to Charlotteans, because they show how easy it might have been for money to influence the city’s business.
The FBI alleges that from 2009 until his arrest in March, Cannon took money to exert pressure over city zoning, planning and transportation decisions. Specifically, the FBI says he took $2,000 from Charlotte strip club mogul David “Slim” Baucom, who wanted to rebuild his Twin Peeks club away from the proposed extension of Charlotte’s light rail Blue Line.
To that end, Cannon apparently solicited the support of council member Michael Barnes, urged the city zoning administrator and other officials to approve Baucom’s zoning requests, and arranged a meeting between Baucom and the Charlotte Area Transit System so that Twin Peeks could stay open to boost profits during an annual racing event nearby.
Some critical questions remain unanswered: Were Barnes and city officials asked to grant favors to Baucom that they didn’t grant to other city businesses? And were those favors delivered? It’s unclear thus far exactly what Cannon’s pressure accomplished for Baucom, but at the least, the strip club owner was able to purchase the time and attention of several important people.
That, in itself, might be more troubling than the explosive revelations in March. This was not Cannon bragging about his hypothetical influence to undercover federal agents. This was a Charlotte city councilman exerting real influence over the decision making process – and perhaps the decisions themselves. Instead of declaring that Cannon’s plea might bring closure for Charlotte, as city leaders did Monday, they should be emphasizing how they can repair public trust by putting a new priority on transparency and ethics.
Let’s be clear: The FBI has not alleged any wrongdoing by Barnes or any other city official. But federal agents are still believed to be looking into Charlotte’s airport taxi contracts, other zoning permits, liquor permits and more. “This investigation did not end with Patrick Cannon’s arrest,” U.S. attorney Anne Tompkins told the Observer on Monday.
For Charlotte, that means we’re far from closure, because while Patrick Cannon’s guilty plea is promising for a city that wants to move forward, Monday’s revelations just made the cloud hanging over Charlotte bigger and lower.