Monday, October 30, 2017

Hoffmann exemplifies cronyism on City Council

by Gary Kenton

Cronyism takes place when friends and business associates of government officials are given unfair advantages in the form of votes, loans, or contracts.  Unfortunately, this describes what you see in Greensboro when you connect the dots between Nancy Hoffmann’s voting pattern and the list of developers who have made her by far the biggest fundraiser in the City Council elections.

When Hoffmann first ran for City Council in 2011, she campaigned as a progressive liberal who would represent the interests of the people in District 4.  Since getting elected, however, her votes have increasingly been focused on downtown development, which she benefits from directly and indirectly, and against the interests of her constituents.

After getting elected, Hoffmann became either the owner or manager of a number of properties in Downtown Greensboro under corporate names of four LLCs she registered with the Secretary of State: Those are South End Partners LLC, Aquarian LLC, Enfield LLC and Enfield Tenant LLC.  South End Partners owns properties in the immediate vicinity of South Elm and Lewis Street, an area that has received considerable support from the City Council in recent years.  During the November 17, 2015 City Council meeting, Hoffmann oversaw the process of making a “Forgivable” loan of $150,000 to AZ Development LLC owned by Andy Zimmerman, one of her business associates.  Not only did Hoffmann fail to recuse herself from voting for a loan that enriched her business partners, but she failed to disclose her relationship to the recipient at the time of the vote.

Hoffmann continues to defend her betrayal of District 4 residents with her vote to rezone the property at Friendly Avenue and Hobbs Road.  Supporting her position on this issue are a number of real estate developers, including two men who represent Halpern Enterprises, the Atlanta-based developer of the Friendly-Hobbs site.  Their letters published in the Greensboro News & Record recently make it clear what they and Hoffmann believe: that more commercial property on West Friendly Avenue is just what Greensboro needs.  The people who live in that area do not agree.

Cronyism is not just a violation of public trust; it is a form of corruption that advances the profit motive of special interests ahead of the public interest.  Who are the special interests in Greensboro?  There is a list available. All candidates are obligated to give the Board of Elections the name of every individual who gives money to their campaigns. Look at Hoffmann’s Campaign Financial Reports and see the Who’s Who of Greensboro developers and real estate attorneys who bankroll her campaign: Kotis, Samet, Weaver, Shavitz, Brown, Cavanaugh, Isaacson…the list goes on.

Recently, Hoffmann voted in favor of building a $7 million parking deck downtown.  As reported by Yes Weekly in 2014, she has received at least one contribution from the wife of Randall Kaplan, the principal of the group that seeks to build the new parking deck.  Developer John Lomax, whose downtown buildings will benefit from the new construction, is also a Hoffmann contributor.  This is “business as usual.”

Another indication of Hoffmann’s intentions can be found in the Friendly Area Plan that she often brags about.  The tone of the document is set with a recommendation “for how these new developments could best fit into the existing context of the surrounding neighborhoods.”  This reflects a view of residential property as untapped opportunities for development rather than as neighborhoods to be valued and protected.  Public comments tacked on to the end of the Friendly Plan reflect quite a different point of view, clearly showing that Hoffmann is out of touch with area residents.

If you connect the dots between Hoffmann’s backers and her votes, I think you will conclude that cronyism is a real issue in Greensboro.  The solution is to elect someone with integrity who believes in transparency and would be beholden to no one but the voters.

Gary Kenton is a candidate for Greensboro City Council District 4