Full Court “Press” Downtown

In my younger days, I played a lot of AAU basketball. I still remember a 13-and-under opponent from Raleigh called the “Beatty Bunch” that ran a wicked 1-3-1 press, the entire game. They were good at it. They got a lot of steals and easy buckets, and it wore you out.

When you’re facing a 1-3-1, the most important thing is not to panic. You have ten seconds to get the ball over half-court, and while this doesn’t seem like much, it’s plenty of time if you know what you’re doing. Patience under pressure beats the 1-3-1 every time.

There’s another type of “press” going on right now. The News and Observer is running articles about Fayetteville’s business partners and their conflict of interest problem.

In short, what happened in Fayetteville was wrong, and the UNC Development Finance Initiative where Jordan Jones and Mike Lamanski worked is putting in new measures to ensure the “wrong” doesn’t happen again.

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In response, Prince Charles Holdings is showing back up in Fayetteville’s Press to put a positive spin on their project:

It’s important that these guys show “continued work,” because they are behind schedule. The “facade” of the parking deck is supposed to be done in ten days according to the contract.

We’ll see if that happens. In the meantime, we continue to have a parking space problem.

Conflicting Documents

If you’ve read this blog, you realize that I’ve been following this deal for a year and a half. As an attorney, I know that it doesn’t mean anything unless it’s written on paper, so I started with a public records request for the City’s contract with Prince Charles Holdings. That contract has now been amended five times and the details have gotten “cloudier” over time.

As a reminder, the parking deck is supposed to have 492 spaces. Here’s how the various plans and contracts have allocated these spaces:

3rd Amendment

The 3rd Amendment to the Downtown Development Agreement (from 2017) provided a very specific allocation of spaces:

  • 120 Hotel
  • 155 mixed used building
  • 90 Prince Charles Apartments
  • 127 to City (remainder)

Mohn Memo

Several months ago, Councilman Ted Mohn circulated his interpretation of the plan, which would only leave 32 spaces for city residents:

It was this allocation that gave me the most concern. 32 spaces for the public in a publicly-funded parking deck is absurd on its face. Here’s my radio rant about it on Good Morning Fayetteville:

5th Amendment

In June, when Prince Charles Holdings came back and asked for 1+ Million more tax dollars for “our” deck, they changed the contract again.

The new, 5th Amendment to the Downtown Development Agreement leaves out the Prince Charles Apartments and the Hotel and gives more spaces to the City:

Math Problem

It’s cloudy now. That’s the short of it.

As you can see, you can’t “mesh” the allocations from each contract because you run out of spaces:

250 (offices) + 120 (hotel) + 90 (Apartments) + 167 (City) = 627 spaces

The deck only has 492 spaces, remember?

City Leaders Won’t Provide Clarity

I’ve asked multiple city council members, the mayor, city managers, and the city attorney for the true allocation of parking spaces in the new deck. I’ve pointed out the inconsistencies in the contracts. No one will provide me with a straight answer.

I made formal public records request for any city document providing the “plan” for the deck. Apparently, there is no plan:

I’m stuck. It’s “wait and see” at this point. Maybe that’s where they want it?

Wrap Up: Pessimism or Optimism

In the last analysis, there’s a few ways to look at what’s going on. I’ll let you decide:

Optimism: There is a chance that the plans have changed, for the positive. Public pressure has forced City leaders and PCH to change the contract to give the public more spaces, or at least “share” them at certain times.

Pessimism: The plan has not changed or has gotten worse for the public, and PCH and City Leaders have intentionally made the contractual documents “cloudy.” They don’t want you to know the real deal because they know it’s not good for the public, or public opinion.

If you care about this issue at all, I’d encourage you to email your council member or the mayor and ask them for the “plan” for the public deck.

Put the 1-3-1 press on them!

Maybe you’ll have more luck than me.

The Mayor vs. The Money (Civil War Museum)

In the game of politics, timing is everything. We saw this play out yesterday morning with the veto-override shenanigans in the North Carolina Legislature. But there’s a Fayetteville wrinkle to this story, and it’s pretty interesting:

On Tuesday, Mayor Colvin and community activist Val Applewhite came out in full force against the Civil War Museum. They want to hold public meetings, get input, put politicians on the record, and essentially shut the project down.

Less than 24 hours later, on Wednesday, Republicans in the N.C. House overrode Governor Cooper’s budget veto in a sneak-attack ploy that made national news. The Fayetteville “wrinkle” comes on page 327 of the Budget Bill that passed:

See that line-item called “Civil War Museum.” Here’s how much money’s heading to Cumberland County if the Senate overrides as well:

Image result for civil war museum groundbreaking fayetteville

Do you think when the Mayor came out against the museum he had any idea that the House would “pass” the budget the next day? I doubt it. But like I said, timing is everything, and the Mayor has flip-flopped on this issue at the absolute worst time. He’s now officially, on the record, against 46 Million Dollars in state money being injected into his community.

Call it bad luck? I don’t know. I’ve been critical of this project in the past as well, but I’ve tried to be consistent from the start. Now we’re left with an economic quandary and a brewing racial battle, and we haven’t even laid a brick. It reminds me of a song from middle school:

More to come on this one for sure.

Public, Private…It’s all the same.

For over a year, I have been critical of Fayetteville’s downtown development deal with Prince Charles Holdings because it uses public tax dollars to benefit one corporation. I’m in favor of public money being used for public facilities (like baseball stadiums). I don’t support using public money to build parking decks for private companies. If you’ve read this blog, you’re aware of that by now.

The lines between public and private interests are crucial and go to the heart of what our government should be about, at all levels. In fact it’s written in in the parchment of our state constitution, which bars cities from using tax dollars for private purposes:

ARTICLE V – FINANCE
Sec. 2. State and local taxation.

(1) Power of taxation. The power of taxation shall be exercised in a just and equitable manner, for public purposes only, and shall never be surrendered, suspended, or contracted away.

The constitution also prevents special treatment:

N.C. Const., Art. I, Sec. 32. Exclusive emoluments. No person or set of persons is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community but in consideration of public services.

Why did our Founders include these provisions? Quite frankly, they were tired of the King of England giving economic favors to those in his favor. A government “of the people” had to live up to its name.

Conflicts of Interest

We tend to take these principles for granted until they start to break down. One such breakdown involving Fayetteville’s downtown development deal was described in the cover story in the News and Observer today. The title speaks for itself:

N&O reporter Dan Kane goes into great detail about the formation of Fayetteville’s downtown development project. If you want to know why we have a baseball stadium next to the Prince Charles Hotel with no parking, it’s worth reading.

Kane uncovers a pattern: Employees at the UNC School of Government (a public institution) created a program called the Development Finance Initiative (also public) to help advise cities and towns in economic development matters. These same employees, after giving said advice, created private companies to make money off of said advice in projects throughout the state.

It’s a clear conflict of interest.

Fayetteville “Waives” Conflict without Public Disclosure

When you have a conflict of interest, you need to do something about it. The law lets both parties “waive” the conflict if they choose to.

In 2015, the Fayetteville City Manager waived one particular conflict of interest on behalf of you and every taxpayer in the City of Fayetteville:

Click here for a link to the full document.

Do you remember hearing a peep about this in any public meeting or in local press? Probably not, and there is a good reason for that: most of this was done behind closed doors, in closed sessions.

Mayoral Leadership?

Mayor Colvin was questioned about the PCH deal in Dan Kane’s story and appeared to play both sides of the foul line:

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said in an interview he supports the project for helping to energize the downtown and build the tax base. But he wants to make sure it is fiscally sound. He was first elected to the council in 2013 and became mayor four years later.

He also said it would help him and other Fayetteville officials if UNC would release more information from the audit so they could understand the conflicts.

I’m confused, Mr. Mayor. There was a clear conflict of interest between public and private actors and your City Manager waived it. While you weren’t Mayor at the time, you were on the City Council and you were chairman of the baseball committee.

And your “baseball committee” talked about a lot more than just baseball:

Kane’s article ended its “Fayetteville” discussion with another quote from Mayor Colvin:

“If there’s any kind of assumption that anything was incorrect, I think the city needs to be able to show fully how it operated in a transparent way without conflict, and so the only way you can do that is to have a report that is forthcoming and not full of redactions that take out critical information,” he said.

Let me break this one down:

  1. There is no assumption. This whole thing was incorrect from the beginning.
  2. The City can’t show it operated in a transparent way because it didn’t. It has acted behind closed doors in all things related to this deal for the past five years.
  3. We don’t need a report from UNC. We need one from City Hall. You can sign it at the bottom.