The City of Greensboro and six members of the 2013 Greensboro City Council have been embroiled in a lawsuit filed by Black Network Television (BNT) and Michael and Ramona Woods now for five years, but it appears it may be coming to and end.
The lawsuit was over a $300,000 loan for BNT to produce Whatcha Cookin’, a television sitcom series that was being filmed in Greensboro. In completing discovery for the case, the city and its attorneys Pat Kane and Bruce Ashley of Smith Moore Leatherwood have discovered that everything BNT told the City Council in an attempt to gain approval of the loan wasn’t true.
In fact, on July 16, 2013, when Ramona Woods stood at the dais in front of the City Council and showed them a video that included Upscale magazine with a headline about Whacha Cookin’ on the cover, indicating that Upscale had done a cover story on BTN and Whacha Cookin’, that wasn’t true. The actual Upscale magazine for May 2013 on the newsstands didn’t have a headline about Whatcha Cookin’ on the cover and didn’t have an article about Whatcha Cookin’ inside. The magazine presented in the video by Ramona Cook had been doctored. Over the words “The Hollywood Don:” on the original cover had been placed several photos and the words “BNT Cooks Up Comedy with Whatcha Cookin’.” Under that is the rest of the actual headline, “Cheadle gets down to business.”
Although it may have looked good in the video, the still photo shows it’s not a great job of Photoshopping. The small photos of Whatcha Cookin’ look out of place since none of the other headlines have small hard to see photos beside them. Also the color, although close, is slightly off.
But whether it is obvious or not, the fact is that the magazine cover presented to the City Council was not the actual magazine cover.
This is all noted in detail in Greensboro’s amended answer filed by the city to the amended complaint filed by the BNT Ad Agency LLC.
Under the “Sixth Further Defense” the amended complaint states, “Plaintiff BNT’s claims are barred by the doctrine of unclean hands. In the presentation made to the Council on July 16, 2013 on behalf of BNT by Ramona Woods, BNT represented to the Council that there was an article regarding Black Network Television and Whatcha Cookin’ in Upscale Magazine. In the video that was shown to the Council by BNT, BNT included what was represented to the Council to be the cover of the May 2013 issue of Upscale Magazine, which purportedly featured Black Network Television and Whatcha Cookin’. However, discovery in this litigation has revealed that BNT had manipulated the image of the magazine to falsely depict Black Network Television and Whatcha Cookin’ on the cover.”
What is amazing about this lawsuit is that it has gone on for so long. A brief history of the lawsuit is that on June 18, 2013, the City Council by a 7-to-2 vote passed a resolution agreeing to loan BNT $300,000 if certain conditions were met. One of those conditions was that the city would take a second position on the home owned by Michael and Ramona Woods, who owned BNT, to secure the loan. It is stated twice times in the resolution that the city will have the second lien on the home and the amount of the first mortgage was $509,000 on the home appraised at $975,000.
In the due diligence period, the city discovered that there was not only a mortgage on the home but a home equity loan, which would put the city in the third position. It was also discovered that the amount owed on the home was not $509,000 but $580,000. After this discovery, the City Council on July 16, 2013 voted 6-to-3 not to amend the terms of the resolution for the $300,000 loan to BNT. However, as is noted in the amended answer from June 18, 2013 until the resolution was revoked on Feb. 18, 2014, the original resolution was in place and BNT by meeting the terms of that resolution would have qualified for the $300,000 loan. Between June 18 and July 16, 2013, perhaps to its detriment, BNT told the city that it needed the $300,000 immediately to meet payroll, which certainly was not an indication that BNT was in solid financial shape or that they would be able to add three fulltime and five part-time employees as is required by the resolution.
According to the city memos, city staff repeatedly recommended that BNT use more traditional financing rather than asking the City of Greensboro for a loan.
However, after the City Council didn’t revise the resolution, BNT filed suit claiming, among other things, racial discrimination. In layman’s terms they claimed that the city backed out of the loan because the owners of BNT were black. One of the reasons stated for passing the resolution was to assist minority-owned businesses.
The case was originally dismissed in the District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina on Dec. 11, 2015, but that decision was appealed and the dismissal was overruled by a split vote of a three-judge panel at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, which meant the Fourth Circuit ruling stood and the case was sent back to Middle District Court to be tried.
It’s worth noting that of the six councilmembers being sued, only three are currently on the City Council. Those named in the suit are then councilmember and current Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Councilmembers Nancy Hoffmann and Marikay Abuzuaiter and former Councilmembers Tony Wilkins, Zack Matheny and Dianne Bellamy-Small.
No doubt it’s not admissible evidence in a court of law, but the idea that Bellamy-Small would vote to racially discriminate against a black-owned business is absurd.