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Monday, June 14, 2010

Charlotte Leaders Pay $2M For Park At Harry Jones' Church (Vote Buying Scheme)

Folks if this isn't an example of a Charlotte, NC Vote Buying Scheme (Black voters) I don't know what is.

Check out the video and article below.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Leaders Spend $2M In Tax Money For Park On Harry Jones' Church Land (Vote Buying Scheme)

At a time when Mecklenburg County is forced to cut almost 200 jobs from its Park and Recreation Department, the county budget sets aside $60,000 to plan a park that it cannot afford to build.

The NewsChannel 36 I-Team found Mecklenburg County set aside $2 million in a one-of-a-kind deal to build the park on property owned by a church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road.

Few debate that the county could use more ball fields along Beatties Ford Road. But some fiscal conservatives have questioned how the church won the one-of-a-kind deal and why it is still funded in a time of sharp cutbacks.

Former Charlotte City Councilman Don Reid is one.

"I don't know how we can invest taxpayer money on a piece of property owned by a church," said Reid, who calls the process used to award the park "a good ole boy network again."

But Reid's so-called "good ole boy" network included an up-and-coming woman -- Mary E. Wilson.

Since the summer of 2008 Wilson has served as the director of Mecklenburg County's Department of Social Services. And the I-Team has raised questions about Wilson mixing state funds with her church -- Friendship Missionary Baptist.

In December 2008, Wilson spent $20,000 of public funds on caterers, entertainment and door prizes for a holiday party for all 1,200 DSS staff held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. When questioned, a DSS spokeswoman said the county did not pay for the use of the church facility. She said it had been paid for by an anonymous donor.

But before her county job, Wilson earned more than $86,000 a year as the executive director of Friendship's Community Development Corporation.

And as executive director in 2006 she helped the church pitch its park plan to the county's Park and Recreation Commission. But in the summer of 2006, Wilson joined the very same Park and Rec Commission.

"Connect the dots," said Reid. "Friendship Baptist Church. Mary Wilson. Mary Wilson goes to the park board and the board then decides to fund the church's project."

Wilson abstained from voting on the Friendship Sportsplex and did not participate in discussion at the board meeting where the board approved the park. Experts in state conflict of interest law at the UNC School of Government tell the I-Team that Wilson apparently did not violate any rule or law.

"Personally, I wouldn't allow that to happen," said Park Director Jim Garges, who joined the department after the Friendship Park had passed the board but before it passed the County Commission. "There wasn't anything she (Wilson) did or anything I was aware of I would consider a conflict of interest."

But e-mails obtained by the I-Team show Wilson advocated for the park in March 2008 when it was pending before the County Commission.

When Park Commissioner Brad Pearce e-mailed staff that he was frustrated with the lack of information about the Friendship park, a project which he supported, it was Wilson who responded in less than an hour.

"Let's be reasonable and work together," Wilson wrote. "I am sensing a less than positive partnership tone."

While they may have had their differences on the way the park was handled, Pearce now says he believes Wilson handled her conflict of interest appropriately.

"Certainly no one at the church ever contacted me and asked for special treatment," Pearce said.

The I-Team tried to reach Wilson last week and this week through a county spokesman and by leaving a message on her cell phone. She did not return repeated calls.

But in a church with thousands of members, Wilson was not the only one with political clout.

County General Manager Bobbie Shields, who oversees the Park and Recreation Department, is also a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

But County Manager Harry Jones tells the I-Team that Shields turned over all control of the park awards to another general manager, John McGillicuddy. And Garges and Pearce both say Shields had no impact on the decision to locate the park at the church.

"Bobbie Shields had no influence over that decision," said Pearce.

"And, if anything, particularly with Bobbie, he went the other way -- 'Don't show me. Don't tell me. I don't want to know anything about it,'" said Garges.

(Some viewers have written that Harry Jones is also a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church but Jones told the I-Team he is not a member of the church.)

Under the terms of the lease agreement between Mecklenburg County and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the county leases the land for 40 years for the sum of $1, with the county retaining the right to renew the lease for another 40 years. The county agrees to build ball fields on the property. And the church gets first dibs on selling any concessions at no cost, keeping all the proceeds.

Most county parks sit on county land. Here and there Mecklenburg County has a boat ramp on Duke Energy property. The county once placed a track on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University. But for the most part, county planners envision putting parks on public land.

And when voters OK'd a public bond issue for parks in 2004, the Park and Recreation Commission anticipated allocating $8 million for joint public-private partnerships, but that the parks would be placed on county land.

In the case of two of the three winning projects, for the towns of Huntersville and Matthews, the parks went on public land. But in the case of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the county entered into a unique lease.

Garges says Friendship was chosen because it had land available for a park and "If anybody else wants a park, give us a call."

But the county doesn't even have the money to build the Friendship Park, let alone take on new parks.

In a time of budget cutbacks, cutting about four out of every 10 park and rec employees, the new county budget contains a capital expense of $60,000 for this year and next to plan for the Friendship park, even though the county does not have the money to build it.

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Sources: WCNC, Google Maps

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