Council hard pressed to calculate return on DGI investment

by Ben Holder

DGI contract.

Once the Greensboro City Council continues to discuss the budget later this week, Downtown Greensboro Inc’s (DGI) future could become a little more predictable. Even though DGI is not on the agenda for council’s upcoming budget session, they are an outside agency seeking money from the city and that means they are open for discussion. Unfortunately for DGI, they have become a polarizing topic for the council recently. The controversy surrounding DGI is centered on the fact that nobody seems to be able to identify what they have done over the past year. Keep in mind, DGI received over $1 million in last year’s budget.At every council meeting last month and the first council meeting this month, DGI was brought up by speakers from the floor. The way the council has responded was very revealing. At the second council meeting in April, Eric Robert, a downtown developer, asked the council what DGI accomplishment were they most proud of? Councilwoman Sharon Hightower was the first to respond to Robert. Hightower told Robert that there were so many things DGI has done that she had a hard time picking her favorite. However, Hightower ended her comments by naming First Friday as her favorite DGI accomplishment. First Friday is something that downtown business owners chose to participate in by staying open later than usual. First Friday is described on DGI’s website as a “… a FREE monthly self-guided walking tour that includes Downtown Greensboro’s eclectic shops, art galleries, studios, museums, and alternative art venues. Participating stops stay open from 6-9 pm on the First Friday of every month with free arts programming to showcase local artists, musicians and various other artistic endeavors.” Besides mentioning it on their website, DGI apparently does nothing for First Friday. Hightower obviously thinks that is worth over $1 million.It is easy to figure out what DGI was supposed to do when their contract is inspected. There is a section in the contract titled “Scope of Services” that details precisely what the taxpayers are supposed to get for their $1 million investment. However, council members seem to be unaware if any of this is getting done. Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said at the second council meeting in April that DGI’s performance has been “lackluster” and she wasn’t able to identify anything they had done over the past year.There are three ways the council could go. They could defund DGI. They could completely stop taxing downtown owners and do away with the entire concept. Or, they could do what some people are talking about and form a new committee that would oversee the funding.

Zack Matheny wants to be the next leader of DGI.

The one thing that is certain is Councilman Zack Matheny wants to be DGI’s next president/CEO, so he is going to vote in his best interest and not the taxpayers. Matheny is said to be the top candidate for the position and he is currently promoting himself and politicking his way into a new job by contacting several of downtown’s big players. Some say it is a conflict for Matheny to even apply for the job while serving on the council. Others say he will only have to step down from the council when he is hired by DGI. However, it is painfully obvious that Matheny is using his clout as a councilman to land a new job and that is unfair and could lead to DGI becoming even more ineffective than they already are.At the very least, the legal department should force him to recuse himself when the council decides upon DGI’s future. Matheny’s vote is tainted. Matheny had more opportunity to help DGI become efficient than any other council member because he served as the council’s liaison to DGI. While serving as the liaison, Zack helped guide DGI into lacklusterness and there isn’t any reason to believe he will be able to do a better job if he becomes the president/CEO of DGI.