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Questions about Cannon

Recently wrote a column about the arrest of then Charlotte Mayor Patric Cannon on federal public corruption charges. It will appear in the May print edition of Carolina Journal, but here it is in unedited form a bit early:

North Carolina once had made a name for itself as a clean government state. That reputation has suffered in recent years, with a host of high-profile arrest of public officials on corruption charges. The latest came on March 26, when Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe from a federal agent. Cannon resigned the same day.

There’s a significant difference between this and other recent major public corruption scandals in North Carolina though. Cases like those involving Jim Black and Mike Easley had obvious and well reported jumping off points. That isn’t the case with Cannon’s arrest. No one was expecting Cannon to be arrested on that Wednesday in late March, least of all the then mayor.

At this stage about all we know comes from what’s in the indictment of Cannon:

This investigation was initiated in August 2010 based on a tip and information received from local law enforcement. A local law enforcement officer was working in an undercover capacity on other criminal matters and learned of information that would be helpful to the FBI regarding public corruption. Although the FBI was originally investigating other individuals and other potential criminal activities, the investigators learned that CANNON was potentially involved in illegal activity.

Beginning in 2011, the FBI used undercover agents to target Cannon, who first allegedly accepted a bribe from them in January 2013. He’s alleged to have eventually taken $48,500, plus have the use of a luxury apartment in Charlotte, and taken an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas with his wife. The FBI claims that Cannon demanded substantially more, including “a point” — one percent of the value — of a $125 million potential investment along Charlotte’s proposed streetcar line.

The indictment raises a number of rather obvious questions. From what state or local law-enforcement agency was the undercover cop that originally provided the tip to the FBI? And what sort of possible corruption does the tip involve? And what of that related federal investigation into “other individuals and other potential criminal activities” that is apparently ongoing?

Turning to Cannon’s involvement, why specifically did the FBI take the next step and target Cannon? And why did they think he would take a bribe? That’s a particularly important issue because as of now Cannon only faces charges related to the money he allegedly took from the FBI — the agency is currently not alleging that any other action that Cannon took was corrupt.

OK, the seemingly obvious answer — the indictment says as much — is that the FBI heard credible stories that Cannon might be willing to take a bribe. But why isn’t the FBI charging him with taking bribes in other cases? Or is that the next step in the investigation? Or might Cannon cut a deal to testify against others in the relate investigation?
Complicating matters is that Cannon’s service as an elected official was not continuous. Cannon was on city council from 1993 through 2005 and then again from 2009 through 2013, when he was elected mayor. So does Cannon’s apparent willingness to take a bribe extend back to his previous stint on city council or was it a habit he developed only after he returned to the board? Or put another, with the statue of limitation having likely run out on any public corruption-related charges related to Cannon’s previous stint on city council, did anything that happened in those previous 12 years on the board in any way shape the FBI’s investigation? Or did Cannon suddenly just become so very noticeable corrupt that the FBI was on his trail within two years?

And if Cannon was on the take, what other recent Charlotte city actions might have been influenced by money being passed in designer briefcases? And are other Charlotte city or Mecklenburg County officials, be they elected or city or county staff, on the take?

So, yes, there are a lot of unanswered questions at this stage. Hopefully, we’ll soon have answers — because until we know the extent of the ethical rot, the Queen City and by extension the state can’t begin to rebuild its reputation.

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Another 12th Congressional District preview

This time it’s from the Greensboro News & Record and it can be found here. Enjoy.

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12th Congressional District update

From the UPoR:

Who has money: Alma Adams. She who is known for her hats has raised the most money and has the most money on hand. Adams is also the only woman in the race, which could also be a significant advantage.

Who doesn’t have money: James “Smuggie” Mitchell, who’s dropping out. Mitchell says that the arrest Patrick Cannon really cut into his fundraising ability, which is kind of ironic. The people he was counting on for $1,000 were suddenly only writing only $100 or $200 checks. “I think the whole city of Charlotte has been kind of in a shock mode,” Mitchell said to the UPoR.

Who’s trying to the spin the race. Or has the most interesting spin on the race: Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte. “When you’ve got one candidate in Greensboro and four others in Charlotte the math becomes tricky for a Charlotte-based candidate. That’s why it’s important we rally around the one in Charlotte with the best chance of winning otherwise we lose the seat to Greensboro.” Of course, Graham thinks that the candidate from Charlotte everyone should rally around is him. Note that he’s effectively saying that Adams will get through to the runoff.

Demographic note: With the amount of population growth in North Carolina, we can expect the state to add a congressional seat come 2022. And with Mecklenburg County’s population growing as much as it has, it may well also eliminate the need for a Charlotte to Greensboro bug-splat of a district to elect an African-American.

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The never-ending UNC-CH athletics and academics scandal

Round 675 or whatever we’re to by now of this mess. Deborah Crowder, the person that effectively ran the university’s African studies department, is now talking to investigators, so we can expect more revelations soon. Crowder is actually originally from Charlotte (a fellow Independence High graduate even, though years ahead of me). The Raleigh News & Observer offers up an interesting profile of her here.

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What the city could do to start rebuilding trust

It’s very simple: drop its attempts to justify the secret vote to raise taxes to fund improvements at privately-owned Bank of America Stadium and for other not-identified-at-the-time economic development projects. Whether the city had the legal right to do what it did is now entirely beside the point.

Openness reduces the potential for corruption. Poorly-designed public policy, like having powerful public officials determine which taxi companies get to pick up fares at the airport or holding no-advanced notice secret votes to raise taxes on politically-disfavored groups to fund in part TBD projects, breeds pay-to-play politics and bribery. As long as the city defends what City Council did on Jan. 14, 2013 and reserves the right to do that sort of thing again, it is de facto saying that city government remains for sale.

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US Airways reduces Brussels and Lisbon service

Before its merger with American Airlines was approved, US Airways announced plans to add daily summer-seasonal service to four additional destinations in Europe this summer: Manchester, England; Brussels, Belgium; Lisbon, Portugal, and Barcelona, Spain. Over the weekend, the airline loaded a revised flight schedule that trims service to Brussels and Lisbon to only four days a week. (Flights from CLT to Brussels operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays while for Lisbon it will be Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.) The reductions don’t come as a great shock. And to be blunt, there’s little reason to expect the combined American/US Airways to offer flights from Charlotte to either destination next summer.

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Meanwhile in Raleigh

The Carolina Hurricanes missed the NHL playoffs. Again. And it’s a team with issues, and those issues start at the top says Raleigh News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock:

Even as the Carolina Hurricanes wrap up a fifth straight season without a playoff appearance Sunday at the Philadelphia Flyers, fans will be happy to know the team is in great shape. Just ask owner Peter Karmanos, who wouldn’t mind your season-ticket deposit if you happen to have it handy.

“I think we have all the pieces in place,” Karmanos said in an increasingly infamous interview with FS Carolinas on Tuesday. “We might have to do some tweaking here and some tweaking there, change some attitudes here, some attitudes there, but all in all, I think we got a good thing going.”

That interview with team broadcaster John Forslund aired during the first intermission of a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers that eliminated the Hurricanes from playoff contention, was presumably an attempt to placate restless fans. Karmanos only managed to infuriate.

“I need the fans to be even more patient than they have been,” Karmanos said. “Our season-ticket renewals right now aren’t good, and I don’t blame anybody because we’ve missed the playoffs for five years, but when we do go back on the ice next year, we need that fan support.”

Why even more patience is so important is unclear, though, since Karmanos also said the front office and coaching staff are doing a great job – general manager Jim Rutherford’s expected departure was not mentioned – and he doesn’t think reconstruction is necessary: “We’re not in a situation where we have to tear everything down and build over again.”

You can read more of DeCock’s column here.

Why this matters: The Charlotte Checkers are Hurricane’s top minor-league affiliate. And ultimately, if there are problem with the parent club, that extends down into the minor leagues.

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The UPoR on film incentives

For those not following the issue, N.C. State professor Robert Handfield produced a study for the Motion Picture Association of America claiming that state film incentives produced significant benefits for North Carolina. This drew a response from economists Patrick McHugh and Barry Boardman of the Fiscal Research Division, questioning Handfield’s methodology. McHugh and Boardman concluded that film incentives are a big net money loser for the state.

The debate resulted in this editorial in today’s Charlotte Observer questioning the value of film incentives. The last paragraph:

There’s no doubt incentives help attract TV and film productions and jobs. But given McHugh’s and Boardman’s convincing gutting of Handfield’s work, legislators should bring great skepticism this summer. Perhaps an alternative approach could be found that doesn’t cost the state so much. If not, and if that means Claire Danes never visits the Observer again, so be it.


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A new breed of hunters

As the Wilmington Star-News reports, the number of hunters in North Carolina has increased in the last few years after being in decline since at least the early 1900s. A lot of that had to do with the economy, particularly the sad state of the housing industry. (People in the building trades tend to also hunt and fish, and they’ve had a lot of extra time on their hands to do so.) But a portion of the increase comes from urban foodies, who have taken up hunting to get what they consider a more organic dinner:

License sales provide a snapshot of where these new hunters live, and reinforce this shift. New Hanover County permit sales increased nearly nine percent between 2008 and 2013, though numbers held steady over that same period in the less urbanized Pender and Brunswick counties. Mecklenburg County, the state’s most populous, grew by 12.4 percent. Just behind, Wake County saw an 11.3 percent increase.

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The casino bubble

From Business Week:

The Harrah’s casino in Tunica, Miss., features a spa, three pools, a golf course, and a shooting range. But there’s one thing the 18-year-old facility, the largest of 10 casinos in the area, sorely lacks: gamblers. The northern Mississippi casino industry saw gaming revenue shrink to $738 million last year from $1.2 billion in 2006. So Harrah’s parent, Caesars Entertainment (CZR), will shutter the resort on June 2, putting as many as 1,300 employees out of work. “There’s just too much supply in that market,” says John Payne, president of Caesars’s central markets division, which will concentrate on two other casinos it owns in Tunica. “The Harrah’s has not been profitable for a while.”

The closing could be a sign of things to come as the $38 billion U.S. gambling industry bumps up against two unlucky trends, a proliferation of casinos and still-skittish consumers in the wake of the financial crisis. Some 39 states have casino gambling of some kind, up from only two in 1988, and more Las Vegas-style resorts are on the way in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland. “They have saturation problems,” says William Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who studies the industry. “We have a wave of new casinos coming.”


You can read the rest of the article here.

Takeaway point: Whatever the projected economic impact from the proposed Catawba casino in Kings Mountain is, it’s highly overstated.

H/t: MK

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