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A question for Mayor Brown

Patrick Lakamp and I have an investigation in Sunday's News that goes something like this:

Former basketball star Leonard Stokes wants to open a restaurant in the old Locker Room on Delaware Avenue despite having no business experience.

Bankers tell him he can't borrow from them. Too much risk, not enough experience or equity.

City bureaucrats cobble together $110,000 in public financing, including a $30,000 grant using anti-poverty funds that are earmarked to help the impoverished Ellicott District represented by Councilman Brian Davis but which instead go to help the restaurant located in the city's wealthiest district.

Stokes doesn't attend classes recommended by the city to help business newbies like him learn the ropes and doesn't invest much sweat equity once the restaurant opens its doors.

Michelle Barron, veep of the city agency that financed the restaurant, doubles as a sort of de facto  manager. Former employees said she was around more than Stokes. Among other things, she helps to handles the till, pay the bills and deal with those pesky employees and vendors who expect to be paid.

The restaurant starts to tank, so Barron and the agency's chief lending officer tell the county IDA it should give lend some money. They never tell the IDA the restaurant is deep in the red, and the IDA doesn't ask questions before forking over $50,000.

Councilman Davis, not content to simply send his constituents' money to another district, writes a check to cover the restaurant's overdue rent. Check bounces. Stiffed landlord files complaint with police. Oops.

Restaurant closes in less than a year. Stokes defaults on $160,000 in public financing. State goes after his business for not turning over sales tax collections or paying some of his employees.

Barron, it turns out, is a college drop out holding a job that calls for a college degree, and she deals with all kinds of public finances - and the restaurant's - despite having trouble paying her own bills.

My question for Brown, who, besides being the mayor, is chairman of the agency responsible for this mess:

"What are you going to do about this?"


City Hall | Economic Development
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