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DGI PRESIDENT REFUSES TO ANSWER COUNCILMAN

by Ben Holder

Jason Cannon’s resume shows an MPA from NC State in 2001.

In September 2014 former Downtown Greensboro Inc. board chair Sam Simpson told media outlets that Jason Cannon was hired as DGI’s president because of his communications skills.

Three months later, it appears communication is Cannon’s biggest downfall. According to Councilman Zack Matheny, Downtown Greensboro Inc. President/ CEO Jason Cannon has refused to clear up the controversy surrounding his resume.

DGI is a non-profit organization that focuses on making downtown Greensboro prosperous. DGI receives the majority of its funding from the City of Greensboro. Because of this, Matheny thinks it’s important for the rumors to be dealt with.

The controversy surrounding Cannon involves a master’s degree in public administration from NC State University. In September 2013, DGI announced that Cannon was hired as their president. The announcement quoted DGI board members as saying Cannon held a master’s degree in public administration. At the time Cannon was hired, he did not have a master’s degree in public administration. The announcement was recently scrubbed from DGI’s website after YES! Weekly began asking questions about it in December 2014.

Cannon’s supporters believe he never claimed he had a master’s degree, only that he was enrolled in the program. His critics claim he falsified his resume, among other things. It seems like it would be an easy thing to clear up, but it hasn’t been.

However, a copy of the resume Cannon submitted at the time of his application for his current position shows the date “2001” beside the listing for his MPA at NC State. Below that, he lists “1999” as the year for his B.A. degree from UNC-Greensboro.

Cannon has placed a federal privacy block on his education records, so the media is unable to verify the date he completed his degrees. Cannon’s resume lists his work history as being chief of staff to Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie) from 2003 to 2009. At the time this resume was submitted, Cannon was the vice-president for government affairs for the Greensboro Partnership, a position he held from March 2009 until being hired by DGI in 2013.

When asked about the controversy surrounding Cannon, Councilmember Tony Wilkins told YES!

Weekly that he believes Cannon would tell the truth if he was asked. “I think if you asked Jason he would give you an honest answer,” Wilkins said.

However, Cannon’s actions contradict Wilkins’ theory. Councilman Zack Matheny’s efforts to get to the bottom of the controversy have been fruitless. Matheny reported to YES! Weekly today that Cannon has ignored his questions regarding the issue.

“Communication between Jason and I has become non-existent,” Matheny said during a telephone interview. DGI was contacted by YES! Weekly today and Jason Cannon was unavailable for comment.

Downtown Property Owner and former DGI board member Eric Robert is arguably DGI’s biggest critic. Robert has written extensively about Cannon’s hiring on his blog. Robert was removed in controversial fashion from the DGI board at the board’s last meeting. He recently wrote on his blog that Cannon refused to consent to a background search when he applied to be the president of DGI.

Sources close to this story allege that when a search committee member in charge of hiring DGI’s next president asked Cannon to allow a background check, Cannon refused. Former search committee member Mark Prince was contacted by YES! Weekly about this allegation. Prince did not respond.

Some DGI board members who wished to remain anonymous reported that former Mayor Robbie Perkins hand picked Cannon and pulled strings to get him through the hiring process. Perkins has publicly supported Cannon and attacked his critics. Perkins also served on the search committee that hired Cannon.

The idea of Perkins pulling strings and bypassing rules is not a new one. One of the first things Perkins did when he was elected Mayor was hire his campaign manager to spearhead a task force that would help create the performing arts center.

Perkins also hand picked former Greensboro Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan. Many council members did not have Shah-Khan as their top candidate, but Perkins managed to get him hired. Mujeeb’s tenure as city attorney was disastrous and ultimately ended with his resignation.

Perkins was also openly accused by fellow council members of making threats against them if they didn’t go along with his plans. Two years ago, News & Record wrote an article titled, “Greensboro council resists mayor’s push.”

The article detailed the former council’s problems with Perkins “strong arming” them. Perkins is quoted in the 2012 article saying, “Sometimes people come along with you and sometimes you have to drag them along.” Unfortunately for Perkins, he could not drag enough supporters to the polls, and he lost his re-election bid to Mayor Nancy Vaughan in 2013.

Cannon’s resume and background controversies aren’t the only issues with DGI. The removal of Robert and Simonne McClinton from the DGI board wasn’t popular and brought into question other member’s eligibility.

DGI’s attendance policy for board members states that members can’t miss more than two meetings. However, records show that Theresa Yon has only attended three meetings in the past year, and she remains on the board. Yon was appointed to serve on DGI’s board by Councilmember Tony Wilkins.

As of December 2013, DGI’s bylaws were changed to allow members to serve no more than two three-year terms. However, according to DGI documents, Dawn Chaney has been a board member since 2006. She was appointed to her tenth year at the last meeting without a vote, McClinton said.

“Dawn Chaney’s expired term was extended another year without a vote from the board,” McClinton said. “I had another term I was eligible for and heard through the grapevine that I would not be invited back, yet no one from the executive committee felt compelled to tell me that I was ‘out.’ I found out from Eric. I was told during the summer of 2014 by several that Jason wanted me off, citing my attendance record. I missed two meetings last year. Yet people who attended less than half the meetings were invited back.” !

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