If you’re a conservative politician, you’d better make sure your business dealings are squeaky clean, because liberal journalists are on the hunt for anything that could taint your reputation. The latest scandal to hit North Carolina is the slush fund known as the NC Rural Economic Development Center. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have benefitted from this agency, but what is despicable, is how the News and Observer targeted Art Pope, whom is a noted conservative and budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory.
Officially, the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center awards “job generating” grants, funded by state taxpayers, to nondescript government agencies. The city of Rocky Mount. Montgomery County. The town of Indian Trail.
From the center’s files, other stories emerge: Legislators influencing where the money goes. People and businesses from across the political landscape getting in on the deals. Political money men benefiting from taxpayer cash, spent with little notice or scrutiny.
One of the biggest names: Discount store business Variety Wholesalers, whose CEO, Art Pope, is a well-known supporter of nonprofit groups that criticize taxpayer subsidies for businesses. A former Republican legislator, he’s now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.
Now after reading that, you would have come to the conclusion that Mr. Pope is a hypocrite, swindling the taxpayers for his own business. You have to go all the way down the article in order to find out what actually happened.
Money helps Pope’s business
The grant is listed as going to the city of Rocky Mount. It was awarded Oct. 15 last year in the amount of $200,000.It was crucial to Walt Crayton Jr., a developer from New Bern who wanted to rehab a vacant shopping center on the eastern side of the city’s downtown.
Crayton is using the grant money to improve the building so Pope’s company can put in a new Roses discount store and grocery. City officials sponsored the grant – local government involvement is required – and contributed $10,000. Officials there say a grocery is badly needed.Crayton said he couldn’t make the numbers work without the taxpayer assistance through the Rural Center. The Roses is set to open this summer, and there is a 15-year lease. Last week, dozens of people lined up to apply for jobs.
Crayton said that Pope’s business, Variety Wholesalers, didn’t get a special discount on its lease with him because of the grant funding. He said Variety essentially set its lease terms, and he had to figure out the rest of the deal. The public money allowed it to proceed, bridging a gap in financing on the $1.2 million project, he said.In several interviews this month, Pope said he did not think the Rural Center grant had any effect on the lease terms – and he suggested his company did not know about the Rural Center’s aid as the deal came together.
“There was no knowledge and no involvement of how the work was done on that (shopping) center owned by the developer and where his source of funding came from,” Pope said.Records and interviews show otherwise, and Pope later said he was mistaken.
Documents show that on Aug. 15, 2012, the chief operating officer at Variety Wholesalers, C. Wilson Sawyer, wrote a “job commitment” letter to the developer that said the store would hire at least 25 full-time employees. Of those, 22 were cashiers or associates to be paid about $14,000 a year.Sawyer wrote in the letter that a condition of Variety Wholesalers’ lease was that the developer would be able to obtain a grant for the site.
Crayton said in an interview that he did not deal with Pope on the Rocky Mount project but said the company “absolutely” knew the grant was coming from the Rural Center. Other company documents and emails support that.Pope emphasized that, while the company has committed to the jobs, the grant did not benefit his company directly and had nothing to do with what his company is paying for the lease. He acknowledged his company at least “indirectly” benefited from the grant.
“To the extent that public funds are involved, and often are involved, does that make it more affordable for the developer/landlord, for the rent for the retailer or the industrial facility?” he said. “In the case of retail, does it make it more able to even locate there? And offer our goods at lower prices to the customers in the community and provide jobs? Yes. That happens. But there was no negotiation along those lines, at least in our case.”Pope said he supports making cuts to the Rural Center’s funding. He said there is “very high unemployment” in rural counties and new approaches might work better.
In January, the Rural Center produced a report for legislators on the employment impact of its grants. The 25 jobs soon to come at the Roses were included.
Pope said his business, not the Rural Center, is creating the jobs.“They like to claim credit for everything,” Pope said. “They like to build up IOUs because, ‘We helped you.’ In this particular case, I’d say it was Variety Wholesalers who creates the jobs when we open the stores and sell products at a good price and the customers want to shop there and it, in turn, allows us to pay our employees and pay our rent. That’s what creates the jobs. Not a grant.”
This fund has been around for over 25 years. Now that republicans what to slash its budget, the knives are coming out to taint their reputations. I ask where all this scrutiny was 19 years ago; nay, 5 years ago. Only the libtards that run these papers can answer that.