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QUESTIONS SURROUND DGI PRESIDENT’S SEVERANCE PAY

by Ben Holder

Downtown Greensboro Inc’s former president received a six-month severance package following his abrupt resignation last week despite that fact that his contract states he will only receive such compensation if he is fired without cause.

DGI released a statement last week announcing that President and CEO Jason Cannon was resigning. The statement said that Cannon wished to work as a legislative and economic development consultant instead of continuing to be DGI’s president.

Cannon, who was the focus of YES! Weekly articles last week, has dodged questions about his original resume for months. Cannon refused to meet with YES! Weekly late last year and answer questions regarding his education. The problem with Cannon’s resume stems from questions about when he received a Master’s in Public Administration from NC State University. Cannon also refused to answer questions about the issue that came from Greensboro City Council members. DGI is funded by taxpayer dollars, but is itself a private non-profit.

When DGI hired Cannon, they released a statement claiming he had an MPA from NC State University. The problem with that was Cannon did not have an MPA from NC State during that time. Ironically, DGI erased that statement from their website once YES! Weekly asked questions about it.

Now, DGI is refusing to answer questions about the exact circumstances regarding Cannon’s resignation.

Last week, YES! Weekly was told by DGI’s Interim President Cyndy Hayworth that Cannon’s employment contract with DGI could not be released.

Hayworth cited personnel laws when denying access to the contract. However, YES! Weekly was able to obtain a copy of the contract from other sources. There is a problem with Cannon’s severance pay and what the contract allowed it to be.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the circumstances stated that Cannon was given six-months pay as a severance package.

On October 1, 2013 DGI wrote Jason Cannon and offered him the president and CEO position for two years. DGI offered to pay Cannon $122,500 per year.

Cannon’s contract states that if he voluntarily chooses to leave DGI before his term ends he would give a 60 day notice to the board in writing. The contract further states that once a 60-day notice is received, DGI’s board may, “opt to pay your salary and benefits for the sixty day notice period, relieve you of your responsibilities and terminate this agreement at any time.”

Gary Brame, the chairman of DGI’s board of directors, told media outlets at the time of Cannon’s resignation that Cannon resigned voluntarily. There was no 60-day notice given by Cannon. However, sources close to this story have reported that Cannon received six months of pay after he resigned.

The contract doesn’t state anything regarding severance pay for Cannon if he does not give a 60-day notice. The only way Cannon could have received six months severance pay is if Cannon was fired without cause by the DGI board by “an affirmative voice of twothirds of all of the individuals then comprising the board.” That didn’t happen, according to DGI’s public statements. Cannon resigned and failed to give a 60-day notice. Even if Cannon had given a 60-day notice, the maximum amount he could have gotten according to the contract is 60 days in pay and “any remaining accrued but unused vacation.”

Several councilmembers were contacted for comment regarding this story and only two responded. Councilman Tony Wilkins said, “Because of the information I have received from YES! Weekly, I will be asking questions.”

When asked about Cannon’s severance deal, Councilman Zack Matheny said, “The entire situation is unfortunate.” YES! Weekly sent emails to DGI’s Interim President Hayworth, and she did not respond.

DGI was formed in the mid 1990’s and has received millions of taxpayers money to operate since that time.

Whether it comes from a special tax levy or straight from the city, DGI depends on taxpayers to survive. In 2013, problems with DGI’s performance brought major criticism from council members and the city even threatened to stop funding DGI if things did not improve. In response to the city’s criticism, DGI created term limits to help obtain balance and bring in new ideas.

However, those bylaws seem to have been bypassed. Cannon’s contract is initialed by Jason Cannon, Dawn Chaney and Sam Simpson. Dawn Chaney is currently the only one who signed the contract that remains with DGI. Simpson resigned from the board late last year and Cannon, as you know, resigned last week. A look at their term member requirements reveal that Chaney is ineligible to continue to serve on DGI’s board due because she has already served six years. Cyndy Hayworth has refused to comment on this issue as well. !

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