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On Greensboro’s Civil Rights Museum

by George Hartzman

Greensboro’s latest International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM) debacle has presented an opportunity to fix part of what I believe is wrong with our community’s broken political system.

The city gave the ICRCM $750,000 based on audits former City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan and former City Manager Denise Turner Roth found “acceptable” instead of “clean”, to what very looks like a financially unsustainable venture with politically connected principals.

The ICRCM was deemed “High Risk” by the City of Greensboro’s Internal Audit Division Civil Rights Museum Financial Review as of April 30, 2013.

The sustainability plan that was received by the city appears to be short on specifics and overly optimistic in projecting how the museum will perform. For instance, 2014 “Contributions/Membership” expectations rise to $800,000 from $112,758 in 2013. “Rental Income”, $35,957 in 2013, is projected to be $442,000 in 2014. After receiving $35,130 in grants during 2013, the museum expects $700,000 in 2014. On “Special Event” revenue of $117,096 in 2013, the plan projects $370,000 for 2014, and $825,000 in 2015.

City staff and council were informed before the vote that some money the museum was to receive did not look like it was merely meant to pay off loans tied to saving the facility, but connected to Skip Alston and Earl Jones maintaining control and being in a position to profit from the taxpayer bailout if the museum became profitable in the future.

Robbie Perkins, reported to have personally identified and advocated for Mujeeb Shah-Khan to be hired as Greensboro’s City Attorney, was an honorary Chair of the ICRCM/Simkins 2013 golf tournament. Perkins advocated for the museum bailout, employed Alston’s former campaign manager, voted for what appears to have been an unnecessary police settlement, a television show and Skip Alston’s $150,000 commission via the Bessemer Shopping Center deal.

In October, 2013, Shah-Khan allowed the check to be issued without a collateralized agreement in place, failing to secure Greensboro taxpayer investments with ICRCM assets to relatively the same management group that oversaw the venue’s financial mishandling in the first place.

Greensboro’s City Council was informed of Shah-Khan never having reviewed the highly detailed and complicated tax credit information in writing, but relied on telephone conversations to determine the museum’s obligations before deciding it was legally ok for City Council to vote for the bailout.

Shah-Khan determined that former mayor and current council member Yvonne Johnson did not have a conflict of interest on the museum vote, which involved fellow Simkins PAC and ICRCM members Alston and Jones. Johnson was listed as a manager on ICRCM documents, before having herself unlisted and then advocating for and voting on the “forgivable” loan.

Shah-Khan’s decision not to recommend that Johnson recuse herself from the Museum vote was striking. After all, Shah-Khan had ruled that former Mayor Robbie Perkins could not vote on a pass through subsidy for Roy Carroll from Guilford County because Perkins owned property (of which he apparently was not paying the mortgage payment) in Carroll’s Centre Pointe building.

If the city can’t get any of the money back, I believe Shah-Khan and some current City Council members may be partly responsible for losing $750,000 of everyone else’s money.

I believe Shah-Khan provided political cover for Robbie and Denise on this and other items, especially during the run up to a City Council election. Zack Matheny was reported to describe the events as an “absolute voter manipulation to try and get some people elected.”

I don’t think Shah-Khan and City Council acted in the best interests of Greensboro’s taxpayers. Public monies were distributed in a rush just before a city election and without a signed contract. The former city attorney also allowed Yvonne Johnson to advocate for and vote on the loan.

City Council needs to initiate a review of the tax credit structure, along with an accounting of how the monies acquired before the bailout were spent.

Only the obligations necessary to saving the museum should be paid for with tax dollars. The city could purchase the property and its contents for $1 if necessary, leaving the loans not tied to saving the facility or its contents in default.

I believe Skip Alston and Earl Jones among others need to legally step away from any interest in the museum, and a non-connected chairperson installed. As the Greensboro Four were college students, NC A&T University student government association members should be provided with permanent representation on the board.

I believe Yvonne Johnson should immediately refrain from any involvement and/or votes concerning the museum or its future.

Greensboro’s City Council owes our community an apology.

George Hartzman, President of Hartzman Fiduciary, intends to leave others better off for his having existed. georgehartzman.com Twitter; @ ghartzman. Please send news tips to hartzmancpe[at]gmail.com !

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