Thursday’s mayoral debate in Charlotte was largely routine, but one comment in particular has drawn some scrutiny. City councilman and Democratic candidate Patrick Cannon denied involvement in the city’s controversial closed door discussions with the Carolina Panthers earlier this year, but city records tell a different tale.
The discussions ultimately resulted in a promise of $87.5 million in public funds for stadium upgrades. Cannon recused himself from the vote, because his parking company has a contract with the Panthers. At Thursday’s debate, Republican candidate Edwin Peacock brought up the closed door discussions.
“You were the one behind closed doors, I was not, and the public doesn’t have to be privy to all of that. But at the end of the day, why didn’t we have a public discussion here?” Peacock asked. “How would you lead—if—would you lead a public discussion and how—what would you put on that agenda to engage the public about why the Panthers are so important?”
“Well, correction,” Cannon responded. “I was never behind closed doors, as you mentioned early on. So let’s make sure we got that clear. You just said I was behind closed doors; I was not behind closed doors.”
“Did you not attend the closed sessions?” Peacock asked.
“No. When you recuse yourself from a vote, you are not in the room,” Cannon said. “And a mayor should know that kind of thing.”
City records show that Cannon participated in at least two of the four closed meetings about the Panthers. The first was September last year. Then-mayor Anthony Foxx told staff he wanted to discuss the Panthers and moved to send staff to look into a deal to ensure the team stayed in Charlotte. Cannon voted for that motion.
In January, the council met in closed session again, this time with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. This was the meeting where Richardson outlined the kind of funding he was looking for from the city and city staff laid out options for raising it. At the debate, Cannon says he did not mislead anyone about his involvement in those discussions.
“I had to sit there to listen to find out what ‘the ask’ might be,” Cannon says. “When Mr. Richardson concluded, I immediately got up and said to the city attorney, this may look like it’s going to be a conflict of interest for me.”
Cannon says he decided to recuse himself then, at the lawyer’s advice. City records confirm that Cannon recused himself later in the meeting, but not before questioning Richardson and city staff about terms of a proposed agreement. Cannon says he might rephrase his debate answer slightly.
“I would phrase that only to say in the way of negotiations,” Cannon says. “Obviously before you recuse yourself, you have to know what level of discussions are going to be on the table, to make a determination about whether you’re going to be recused or not.”