Peacock questions whether Cannon fit to be Charlotte mayor

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comNovember 4, 2013 

Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock questioned Monday whether Democratic candidate Patrick Cannon had been “100 percent truthful” in saying he had “never” attended a City Council closed session meeting about helping the Carolina Panthers financially.

In reality, Cannon had attended three of four council closed session meetings on the Panthers, including a January 2013 meeting in which team owner Jerry Richardson outlined his plans for stadium renovations and asked council members for money.

Peacock said the issue calls “into question (Cannon’s) ability to be mayor.”

Peacock, a council member from 2007 to 2011, made his statements at a noon news conference at the Mecklenburg Republican Party’s headquarters on East Morehead Street on the day before the election. As Peacock was speaking from a podium, Cannon entered the room, crashing the event.

Cannon later spoke outside to reporters. He said Peacock’s comments were a “desperate attempt” to get support with the general election Tuesday.

“It’s really important that people shouldn’t be splitting hairs over the issue,” Cannon said.

At question is Cannon’s involvement in the council’s decision this year to give the Panthers $87.5 million for stadium improvements in exchange for a commitment to stay in Charlotte for at least six years.

Cannon owns a parking management company, E-Z Parking, that has a contract with the Panthers. Cannon asked to be recused from voting on the deal, citing a financial conflict.

But Cannon, the mayor pro tem, attended three of four closed session meetings on the issue.

During a mayoral debate that taped Thursday morning at WTVI, Peacock asked Cannon how he would handle the next round of negotiations with the team, which could start in as soon as 2015.

In response to that question, Cannon said he had “never” been in a closed session meeting about the Panthers. He explained that because he had recused himself, he wasn’t in the room when council members discussed the issue.

During the debate, he added: “If you want to be mayor, you should know that.”

The Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Business Journal reported later that day that Cannon had in fact attended three of the four closed session meetings.

The first closed session was in September 2012, after a budget retreat. Council members discussed whether to have city staff approach the Panthers about starting negotiations.

In January 2013, council members met again, this time to listen to a pitch from team majority owner Jerry Richardson. Cannon attended that meeting and also took part in the discussions.

At the end of that January meeting, council members took a tentative vote on whether to ask whether the General Assembly would support an increase in the prepared food and beverage tax to raise money for the Panthers. Cannon did not take part in the vote.

Cannon said Monday he hadn’t realized that he would have a conflict with the Panthers proposal until after the January meeting had started.

(Some council members knew before the January meeting and had alerted the media that the council would be discussing a request from the Panthers for money. Police were posted outside a council meeting room to keep the media from being immediately outside the room.)

In February, council members met in closed session again, at Whitehall Manor after a budget retreat. Cannon left the room and didn’t participate in discussions, which included Richardson addressing council members again.

In March, council members met again to discuss the Panthers in closed session. Cannon attended the meeting.

That closed session wasn’t scheduled to be about the Panthers. But the issue came up briefly at the end of the meeting.

Peacock said Cannon made his attendance an issue in the campaign.

“I didn’t bring this up,” Peacock said.

Peacock has spent much of the mayoral campaign criticizing the council’s decision to consider raising taxes in closed session, and not announcing any parts of a deal with the Panthers until a deal was reached in February.

Peacock also said he would have voted against the $87.5 million deal.

He said other options would be to put the issue before voters in a referendum; to have the team use NFL financing; or to inquire about using state lottery proceeds.

Though Cannon didn’t vote on the Panthers deal, he said he supports the council’s decision.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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