Intervening with CATS for a vendor
In 2000, the Charlotte Area Transit System was struggling to get timely payments from the vendor that sold ads on city buses: New Jersey-based Gateway Outdoor Advertising.
Frustrated, CATS told Gateway it would terminate its contract.
Soon after, Cannon called CATS officials about Gateway, whose chief executive, Craig Heard, had donated $1,000 to Cannon’s 1999 campaign.
“He called staff to sit down and understand what was going on,” said Olaf Kinard, a marketing manager for CATS who was involved with the bus contract. “He had been contacted by Gateway.”
After Cannon set up a meeting with Gateway, CATS decided not to cancel the contract after Gateway paid its bills. The transit system decided not to renew it a year later because it eliminated all exterior ads from buses.
But 10 years later, CATS decided to allow exterior bus advertising again as it struggled with revenue shortfalls.
In April 2011, CATS recommended that council members select New York-based Titan Advertising.
During the meeting, Cannon questioned whether Titan was the best choice and suggested the city might want to go with another company – Gateway. According to a meeting transcript, Cannon pressed city staff about Titan’s trouble with a New York City Transit system contract.
“There were two highest-rated vendors that were invited to make the presentations,” Cannon said during the meeting. “Who was the other vendor?”
The second highest-rated company was Gateway. Heard had made his $4,000 donation to Cannon two months earlier. Heard also gave Cannon $2,000 in 2010.
Heard told the Observer he contributed because Cannon wanted to improve the community.
Titan got the contract.
A year later, Cannon and other council members were upset when CATS expanded its bus advertising program to allow alcohol ads. During a meeting, Cannon urged transit officials to meet with a local advertising company, later identified as Adams Outdoor Advertising, whom Cannon said could help CATS make money, without beer, wine and liquor ads.
Some Adams employees were Cannon donors. City staff members never held the meeting.
Knights felt pressure on deciding contracts for food service
During spring 2012, Cannon played a pivotal role in the City Council’s decision to give the Charlotte Knights $8 million for a new uptown baseball stadium.
At first, Cannon pushed city staff to avoid using property taxes for the stadium. But later, he was a key vote in giving the Knights the money. The vote was 7-4, which persuaded former Mayor Anthony Foxx not to veto the decision.
After the vote, Knights general manager Dan Rajkowksi got a phone call from Cannon. Cannon wanted him to meet P.J. Benton, whose food-vending company wanted ballpark work.
Benton, who is now deceased, was also one of Cannon’s larger campaign contributors. She had donated to each of his last four campaigns, including $3,100 combined in 2011 and 2013.
Rajkowski said he met with Benton, whose company PJJD Enterprises – now Denard Enterprises – is a minority food contractor at Charlotte Douglas Airport. He told the Observer the team didn’t choose PJJD Enterprises.
“He was trying to put the screws to the Knights,” said one city official familiar with Cannon’s interactions with the team. The official did not want to be named because of the ongoing federal investigation.
Frank Johnson, who now leads Denard Enterprises, didn’t return Observer phone calls.
Former Aviation Director Jerry Orr said he remembers Cannon lobbying him in 2011 about a lucrative food and beverage contract. Orr said Cannon wanted HMS Host, an airport vendor, to win the entire contract because PJJD Enterprises would have gotten more business.
“He lobbied to try to help her out,” Orr said. “He supported Host because he thought she would get a better deal than with Paradies (which won the contract).”
Months later, the City Council considered a routine housekeeping matter, about whether to transfer the lease for a shoe shine company from Paradies to HMS Host.
Minutes from that December 2011 meeting show Cannon lobbied against Paradies. “I am not pleased by some of the operational methods that they have operated under, and I question wholeheartedly their integrity and their ability to be able to do business the way they should be doing it,” Cannon said to council members.
He said he wanted to cut Paradies’ contract length in half.
Active and assertive in airport taxi contract, regulation
Four years ago, the city changed how it regulated taxis, an issue that fell under the city’s public safety committee.
In its affidavit against Cannon, the federal government said Cannon boasted that, as chairman of the public safety committee, he could influence a number of decisions that involved the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.
He also was a board member of the Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, a lobbying group involved in a 2011 decision to limit the number of taxi companies operating at Charlotte Douglas Airport from 12 to three.
One of the three companies picked was Yellow Cab.
The out-of-state owners of Yellow Cab – William Bodenhamer of Lighthouse Point, Fla., Neal Nichols of Arlington, Va., and Mitchell Rouse and Alice Rouse of Gardena, Calif. – had given Cannon $32,000 over the past two campaigns. During the mayor’s race, their donations accounted for 10 percent of all Cannon’s campaign funds.
Emails obtained by the Observer show Cannon was heavily involved in the debate over which cab companies should have access to the airport and the modifications of the city’s passenger vehicle-for-hire ordinance, which regulates taxis. He contacted city staff repeatedly, even calling out one worker in a personal email for not having the “people skills” to deal with the taxis.
In January 2010, as the cab efforts were getting underway, Cannon requested a meeting for himself and taxi representatives with Burhan Al-Shaikh, who managed the passenger vehicle-for-hire board. Al-Shaikh declined to comment for this story.
In March, Cannon asked for and received information about the locations of all the taxi stands in uptown. Then in June, he sent an abrupt email from a personal email account to then-City Manager Curt Walton, police Chief Rodney Monroe and other officials.
“This whole taxi-cab thing is getting ‘way’ out of control with all of the different issues that are surfacing that involves or doesn’t involve the city directly,” he wrote. “I continue to grow extremely tired of the complaints of the person running the PVH function (Al-Shaikh) who has very little people skills in my opinion whose serving in a public capacity and avoids communicating properly.”
Taxi cab companies that didn’t win access to the airport have alleged that Cannon unduly influenced the selection process, along with the HTA, the lobbying group that Cannon had served on as a member of the board. Several cab companies have sued the city for access to the airport.