As vote looms, Matheny’s company involved with solid waste proposer

by Jordan Green

Three former Greensboro mayors — Keith Holliday, Yvonne Johnson and Carolyn Allen — gathered at the White Street Landfill last week to speak out against reopening it to household waste. (photo by Quentin L. Richardson)

The employer of a Greensboro City Council member is involved in an investing partnership with a local demolition company whose CEO and president are part of venture seeking to reopen the White Street Landfill to municipal solid waste. The council will vote on an option for disposing of the city’s solid waste this spring.

Zack Matheny, who represents District 3 on the council, joined Steven D. Bell & Co. in 2008 and serves as the company’s director of investor relations. DH Griffin Sr. and David Griffin Jr., respectively the CEO and president of Greensboro-based DH Griffin Cos., are investors in MRR Southern LLC, the principal contract party in Gate City Waste Services. The latter company is among five qualified proposers seeking to handle the city’s solid waste disposal.

In 2008, Steven D. Bell & Co. announced an investment partnership with DH Griffin Cos., Jacoby Development and “a Ted- Turner-family entity” to spend about $100 million to redevelop an old Ford site adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The project has come to be known as the “aerotropolis.”

“DH Griffin and Bell Partners are in a joint venture together,” said Durant Bell, a principal with the company. “Jacoby Group is the developer. DH Griffin and Bell are equity investors.”

The company has since been renamed Bell Partners.

“That was a deal we entered into with DH Griffin,” Matheny said. “It was done before me joining my company. I’m not involved in that deal. I will not profit or have to pay, depending on what happens with that deal.”

Matheny said his work has to do with recruiting people to invest in “Fund 3” and “Fund 4,” which he described as “private real estate investment opportunities,” adding that he believes the aerotropolis is financed through “Bell Fund 2.”

Assistant City Manager Denise Turner indicated on Tuesday that the city’s legal department would not respond to an inquirty from YES! Weekly as to whether the investing relationship comprises a conflict of interest and might prevent Matheny from voting on the solid waste decision.

Last June, the city council approved a new policy on conflicts of interest prohibiting “officers, employees or agents from participating

in the selection, award or administration of any contract where a conflict of interest is involved or may exist, whether real or apparent.” A written policy sent out to council members by City Manager Rashad Young elaborated, “The city charter and North Carolina state law prohibits city officers, employees and agents from voting upon or otherwise participating in the selection, award or administration of contracts in which they have a direct or indirect financial interest.”

The policy further states that a conflict of interest would arise when the employee, any member of their immediate family, a partner or employer “has a financial or other interest in the firm selected for the award.” It remains unclear whether council members falls within the definition of “officers.”

One council member has already been recused from voting on the landfill. Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan will not participate in the decision because her husband, Don Vaughan, is a lawyer representing proposer Waste Industries. Three members — atlarge Councilman Robbie Perkins, District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee have pledged to vote against any proposal to reopen the landfill. Mayor Bill Knight, at-large Councilman Danny Thompson, District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade are fiscal conservatives who have indicated an interest in finding out the potential cost savings from reopening the landfill. Matheny is considered a swing vote.

“I certainly don’t want to recuse myself unless it’s absolutely necessary because I don’t want to avoid the decision that needs to be made,” Matheny said.

A 2008 article in The Business Journal indicates that DH Griffin brought Bell Partners into the investing partnership.

“DH Griffin, one of the largest demolition companies in the country, was hired by Jacoby to tear down the massive Ford plant, an economic mainstay in the Atlanta area since it opened in 1946,” Executive Editor Justin Catanoso wrote in the 2008 article. “When Jacoby asked David Griffin… if he wanted to invest in the project, he made a call to his friend Jon Bell in Greensboro.”

The article quotes Bell as saying, “David said since we do this kind of real estate investment for a living, he wanted to know what we thought about the prospects. This was about four months ago. I went down and looked at it; I used to live in Atlanta so I knew the potential. It didn’t take long for me to ask David to set up a meeting with Jacoby.”

During the 2009 election cycle, Knight received a $700 contribution from DH Griffin Sr. and a $300 contribution from his son, David Griffin Jr.

Keith Holliday, a former mayor, warned opponents of reopening the landfill during an impassioned speech last week that a majority of the council’s members may have already made up their minds to reopen the landfill.

“I was hoping the council would wake up and understand what they’re doing,” Holliday said. “Doggone it, they just didn’t. And the reason they didn’t is because there’s a lot of things going on, ladies and gentlemen, behind the scenes that you don’t know about. There’s a lot that the media doesn’t know about. This is concerted, calculated strategy. And it’s because they think they can.” The former mayor did not mention any current council members by name in his remarks.

The council is scheduled to deliberate over solid waste question on April 26, and in June 7 the council is expected to approve an agreement. “I feel that I’m close to a decision,” Matheny said. “I just want to have all my ducks in a row. Mr. Holliday’s antics are disappointing.”