A mayor for all seasons

by Keith Barber

A mayor for all seasons

Allen Joines glides through the room with an effortlessness that says he knows he’s among friends. Joines, the two-term mayor of Winston-Salem, appears to have very few enemies at this campaign event. Even his detractors are quick to express their admiration for the man who has spent most of his life serving the city.

Joines joined his friends in real estate and construction during a political mixer sponsored by the Winston-Salem Regional Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association at Groves Stadium on Aug. 25th. The event gave area realtors and builders an opportunity to share their concerns with city council members and mayors of local municipalities. With the upcoming municipal elections, a good number of challengers for city council seats wisely made appearances. Paul Mullican, a planning board member, expressed the general sentiment on the lips of everyone milling about in the plush confines of Bridger Field House. “The mayor has brought more to Winston-Salem as far as togetherness and camaraderie,” Mullican said. “I think he’s brought more to this area than any other mayor has. He’s one of us; you can meet with about any problem you have… Allen Joines is one of the best mayors I’ve ever known.” It’s not as if Joines hasn’t dealt with controversy during his eight years in office. In fact, public outrage over the downtown ballpark issue reached a crescendo less than three months ago after Billy Prim, owner of the Winston- Salem Dash minor league baseball team, came back to the city asking for an additional $15.7 million to complete construction of the baseball stadium. The turnout at the public hearings on the issue surpassed expectations. Four overflow rooms at City Hall had to be utilized to accommodate the crowds that gathered to voice either their displeasure with the whole deal or their support of the finishing the half-built baseball stadium that will eventually house the single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

Joines opened thepublic hearing with a statement that appeared designed to soothe someof the ill will in the council chambers. Joines described theoutpouring of both public opposition and support for the downtownballpark as “the best way of local government.” Then in hishumble, modest manner, Joines stated, “The city of Winston-Salem findsitself in a difficult situation not of its own making.” “That’snot true!” a citizen exclaimed inside one of the overflow rooms. “Noneof us like the choices we are facing tonight,” Joines coolly continued.“But the situation is before us, and the city council is trying to finda satisfactory solution that protects the city’s investment and onethat does not impact the taxpayers.” Nathan Tabor spoke inopposition to the city lending Prim an additional $15.7 million. “Thisissue is about personal responsibility,” Tabor, president of theForsyth County Republican Party, said. “If this was a private business,you would be bankrupt and you would’ve cost everyone their jobs.” “Whatthis comes down to is personal responsibility,” Tabor continued. “It isunfair to the taxpayers of Winston- Salem.” Tabor then askedthe city council why Prim was getting special treatment. “Are youhelping small business owners from foreclosure? Are you helping [save]homeowners from foreclosure?” he asked. Tabor then asked aboutthe involvement of the Winston- Salem Alliance and the Millennium Fund.In uncharacteristic fashion, Joines appeared to momentarily lose hiscool. The mayor interrupted Tabor and forcefully asserted that both theAlliance and the Millennium Fund are nonprofits and had no fiduciaryinterest in the ballpark. What Joines didn’t say was thatwhile acting in his capacity as president of the Winston-Salem Allianceand the Millennium Fund, he personally signed an agreement with Prim toassign Prim’s real estate development company, Brookstown DevelopmentPartners LLC, options to purchase 38 properties in the immediatevicinity of the downtown ballpark site. The mayor signed the agreementon Dec. 15, 2006 — nearly a year before the city council approved aresolution to invest $12 million in Phase I of the project. Shortlyafter the June public hearings, Joines returned $2,000 in campaigncontributions from Prim. Despite the revelations about Joines’involvement in the behind-thescenes land deals that helped pave theroad for Prim and his partners, the Forsyth Republican Party could notfind anyone willing to run against the popular Democratic mayor in the2009 municipal elections. “We can go out and recruit but wecan’t force someone to run,” Tabor said. Two Republican candidates wereseriously considering a run for mayor but an ad in a local dailynewspaper dissuaded them, said Tabor. The advertisement ran the daycandidate filing opened — July 6th — and listed Joines’ supporters.Tabor said half of the names on the list were “big-name Republicans.” “Thereason no Republican ran against Joines was because there are so manyRepublicans who support Joines,” said Tabor. Despite Tabor’s positionand vocal opposition to the downtown ballpark, he admits he likes MayorJoines. “I’m friends with the mayor,” Tabor said. “When I saythat, a lot of people are shocked. He’s one of the nicest, most cordialindividuals you would meet on a personal basis — that’s always a goodtrait in an elected official. He makes you feel like you’ve known himyour whole life.” For the second straight election, Joines is runningunopposed. Still, the mayor has managed to raise nearly $80,000 for his re-election campaign.

Broad-based support

Joines’semi-annual campaign finance report reads like a Who’s Who inWinston-Salem society. Victor Flow, Bowman Gray IV, Borden Hanes, DonFlow, Ben Sutton Jr. and Erna Womble are among the contributors toJoines’ 2009 mayoral campaign. Sutton and Don Flow both spoke in favorof completing construction of the ballpark during the June publichearings. The Winston-Salem Alliance’s 2007 tax return reveals that DonFlow is the CEO of the nonprofit and Joines is the only paid employee,earning $160,600 annually. It was recently revealed thatSutton, the CEO of ISP Sports, is one of the private investors in thedowntown ballpark. As a result of this revelation, Dan Barrett, seniorvice president of ISP Sports and one of the members of the CitizensBaseball Stadium Review Committee, had to resign his position on thecitizen committee. Joines confirmed that Gary Strickland, a formercommittee member, also had to resign due to a conflict of interest.Joines said Strickland, a local contractor, resigned when he realizedhe would have access to proprietary documents from Samet Construction,the ballpark contractor. Those documents purportedly contain “tradesecrets” that could benefit a competitor. During thecommittee’s Aug. 20 meeting, committee member Howard Hudson requested alist of private investors in the ballpark before signing the city’sconfidentiality and ethics agreements. Committee members are requiredto sign the agreements as a condition of their service, City AttorneyAngela Carmon said. Carmon informed members of the citizen group —which was formed last month to oversee the completion of the ballpark —that the project’s investors had requested anonymity. Hudson pointedout the obvious: How can committee members know if a conflict ofinterest exists without having knowledge of the investors? Carmonreplied that to the extent that committee members are not aware of anyconflict of interest, the city’s ethics policy covers the membersagainst any potential civil litigation.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines responds to 50 e-mails, phone callsand letters per day. When the controversy over the downtown baseballstadium erupted in June, Joines said that number doubled to 100e-mails, phone calls and letters per day. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Committeechair Eric Prior asked Denise Bell, the city’s chief financial officer,pointed questions about the city’s potential exposure should Primdefault on the $12.7 million loan approved by city council in June.Bell clearly stated that the city holds the second lien position on theballpark behind Bank of America, which has invested $15 million in theproject. If Prim defaults, Bank of America would take ownership of theballpark even though the city would still retain title to the stadium.The bank would have to continue to make lease payments to the city butat a nominal rate, and could extend the loan from 25 years to 99 years,Bell said. She would not say whether or not Bank of America’s nominalpayments would cover the city’s debt service on the $12.7 million loanfrom First Tennessee Bank. City Manager Lee Garrity stated that Bank ofAmerica would not allow Prim to make a personal guarantee that he wouldpay back the city’s loan. “Any business owner going to any lendinginstitution in Winston- Salem has to sign a personal guarantee,” Taborsaid. “They’re allowing these investors to keep their names private andput up nothing as collateral. Talk about mismanaging and helping yourfriends. How many of these private investors pay the mayor’ssalary at the Winston-Salem Alliance? Are the mayor and the citycouncil members holding themselves to the same conflict of intereststandards as the committee members?” The Winston-Salem Alliance’s 2007tax return reveals the nonprofit raised more than $300,000 that year,but does not list individual donors to the organization.

Teflon mayor? Joinescan’t recall ever feeling torn between his duties and responsibilitiesas president of both the Winston-Salem Alliance and the Millennium Fundand his role as mayor. He pointed out that both organizationsare nonprofit entities whose mission is to spur economic development inthe city. “There’s never been a conflict of interest,” he said. Joinesacknowledged that the Alliance and the Millennium Fund went out andsecured options for the ballpark, but there was “full disclosure” tothe city council. Council member Molly Leight praised Joines forkeeping the council informed of all the behindthe-scenes activityleading up to the passage of the first resolution for the city toinvest $12 million in the ballpark, but conceded that her constituentswere not happy when Prim came back to the city asking for more money. “Peoplegot upset that they weren’t hearing about this, but for a year or so,we were having meetings after council meetings to get updates on wherewe stood,” Leight said. “We couldn’t say anything about negationsbetween Billy [Prim] and his partner [Andrew “Flip” Filipowski].” Leightsaid the city council couldn’t reveal the content of the negotiationsas Prim attempted to buy out Filipowski, and at times it seemed“hopeless.” But ultimately, the city’s restructuring of the original deal allowedthe project to go forward, Leight said. Public outcry over the lack oftransparency led to the formation of the citizen committee. “Ithink I would’ve suggested the oversight committee earlier on when weinvested the original $12 million,” he said. “If they had been involvedand seen almost the perfect storm of financial issues that hit, theycould’ve helped us explain to the community the series of circumstancesthat all hit at the same time that triggered this.” In hindsight,Joines said he would have also ensured the city take ownership of thestadium right away rather than waiting until the end of the 25-yearlease agreement. “Citizens have said they felt so much bettersince that change was made,” Joines said. What has not been highlypublicized is that of the original $12 million the city invested inPhase I of the project, $5.5 million came from the sale of Ernie ShoreField to Wake Forest University. That money was a donation from thecity, and will not be paid back, said Cynthia Bell. Joines receivedharsh criticism in the form of letters, emails and phone calls fromcitizens. One of the requirements of serving as mayor is having a thickskin, and letting things roll of your back, but that doesn’t mean itdoesn’t hurt, said Joines. “I’ll be honest with you: It doessting, particularly when it creeps around the edges of integrity,”Joines said. “That’s what hurts the most at least for me because I holdmyself up extremely high in terms of that sort of thing — ethicalbehavior. “ Despite Prim’s highly leveraged position, Joines said he’sconfident the city’s investment will be protected. “We feelvery confident the revenue projections are conservative,” Joines said.“We have to do about 70 percent of what [the] Greensboro [Grasshoppersare] doing to break even. I feel like our community can easily dothat.” Kevin Terry, president of the Winston-Salem Dash, said the teamhas already sold more than 4,100 season-ticket packages thus far. Terryalso said the team has sold 90 percent of the ballpark suites and 90percent of its sponsorships. In addition, Terry said the teamhas a verbal agreement from a local business regarding a naming rightsagreement for the stadium, but the deal hasn’t been finalized. “Wecouldn’t be more pleased with the response from the communityconsidering the economy,” said Terry. Terry said opening date is slatedfor April 2010, but he expects project construction to be completed asearly as January. Terry said Joines’ support of the project has servedas a driving force in the community. “I truly believe, firstof all, [Joines] is a class act from head to toe,” Terry said. “When hemakes a decision, he does what he believes is best for all the citizensof Winston-Salem. There’s a lot that’s been said about him beinginvolved in the ballpark, but if he didn’t think this wasn’t going tobe good for the city and the citizens, he wouldn’t support it.” Seeinglarge projects come to fruition is what motivates Joines. “I’ma results-oriented person and to get results you have to come to themiddle of the road to get something accomplished,” he said. “You maynot get all you want from an initiative, but it’s my desire to getthings done that drives that compromise. It’s knowing that in order forthe city to move forward, you can’t get hung up on a philosophicaldebate.”

In his dual role as Mayor of Winston-Salem and president of theWinston- Salem Alliance, Allen Joines has been the driving force behindthe development of the downtown ballpark.

“I’ll be honest withyou — [criticism] does sting particularly when it creeps around theedges of integrity. That’s what hurts the most at least for me becauseI hold myself up extremely high in terms of that sort of thing -ethical behavior. “ — Allen Joines

In 2008, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines made more than 1,300public appearances, including a visit to the Second Harvest Food Bankof Northwest North Carolina. (photo courtesy of City of Winston- Salem)

Governing philosophy

The artof compromise is simply the art of collaboration in the view of AllenJoines. “As a mayor, you have very little formal power so in order toget things down you have to build consensus and collaboration,” Joinessaid. Joines said his approach with any issue is to get the variousinterests to come to the table and find some common ground. Hecited the city’s passage of the tree ordinance this summer as a goodexample of how to govern from the middle. The city’s new treeordinance, which requires all new development to preserve 10 percent or12 percent of its total area for green space, passed the city councildue in large part to the efforts of council member Dan Besse, Joinessaid. “That could have been very controversial,” he said. “You hadenvironmentalists on one side and developers and homebuilders on theother. But the council stepped back and gave Dan Besse an opportunityto make that happen.” When critics say the city council alwaysseems to agree on every issue, Joines says there’s a very good reasonfor that. “ A conciliatory philosophy allows us to work towardsolutions rather than put [issues] up for a vote right away,” he said.There has been much speculation about Joines’ political aspirations. Heconfirmed Gov. Beverly Perdue offered him the position of Secretary ofCommerce, but he declined for personal reasons. “But when thegovernor came back and asked me to chair the North Carolina EconomicDevelopment Board, I agreed,” Joines said. “I felt like I couldn’t turndown the governor twice.” Joines first joined the city ofWinston-Salem in 1971 and served in a variety of roles, includingdeputy city manager. He said a technical knowledge of the innerworkings of municipal government represents one of four prerequisitesfor any mayor. The other three traits every mayor should have includethe ability to create collaborations and build consensus; a passion forpublic service and good communication skills.

Despite the fact he’s running unopposed for his third term as mayor, Joines still has a detailed campaign platform. Oneof the major planks of his platform could include a big announcementlater this month. All Joines could say is the announcement is tied tohis vision of what Winston-Salem should aspire to be in the future. “Isee our city as being a very strong, economically viable communitybased on biotech, medicine, financial services, design and travel andtourism,” Joines said. “What I think we’ll be recognized for nationallyis being one of the top biotech centers in the country. There’s aspecific piece of that we will be [recognized for] and I’m not going tosay right now, but it’s part of this [economic development] strategy.” Despitethe sizable time commitment his position demands, Joines doesn’t appearthe least bit tired. However, he acknowledged that last year he mademore than 1,300 personal appearances, and over the years, it’s taken atoll on his wife, Peggy, and his children, Jeff and Michelle. “Youhave to expect your family to suffer,” he said. “To do the job right,you’ve got to be out four nights a week and on Saturdays and Sundays.” Joinessaid he would advise any young person aspiring to be mayor ofWinston-Salem that it will be a tough job, but the most rewarding jobthey’ll ever find. “I would say, ‘Go for it. If you have a desire to dosomething and you want to see your community better, that’s the mostfulfilling thing you can do,’” Joines said. “I think local governmentoffers the best opportunity to have direct impact to see the results ofyour work.” Looking back on his four decades with the city, Joines saidit’s very easy to see why he’s dedicated his life to makingWinston-Salem a better place to work and live. “I think Winston-Salemhas a soul about it that’s really comforting,” he said. “It’s got atremendous quality of life. We’ve got all the amenities of a largercity without the hassles of a larger city. The people have a great workethic and we have a very progressive city government that I’ve had thegood fortune to be a part of for many years.”