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Hire Matheny, or else?

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City Councilman Mike Barber

Did Mike Barber try to make Downtown Greensboro Inc. an offer it couldn’t refuse?

DGI’s acting head, Cyndy Hayworth, says yes — that the veteran city councilman leaned on her, like some tough guy in a black-and-white movie, and, in so many words, told her the center-city booster group should hire fellow City Councilman Zack Matheny as its next CEO. Or else.

“I received a call and was given an ultimatum or a deadline,” Hayworth said in an interview Friday with reporter Joe Killian and the News & Record editorial staff. “The parameters around that were, ‘If you make a decision on the hiring of a CEO by a certain time, then the City Council would not vote to stop funding to DGI.’ ”

Barber gave her only hours to decide, Hayworth said. That made her “furious,” she said, and she chose not to call Barber back.

Barber insists he did no such thing. “I said that we’re getting ready to roll into our budget period, and we are going to reduce funding for organizations,” Barber told Killian last week. “I told her, ‘If you go through a long search process, then you’re going to put your selection into or after our budget process, and I believe your funding will be cut. I believe the majority of council will want to do that.’ ”

Barber said he told Hayworth that a long search for a new CEO wasn’t necessary and wouldn’t be in DGI’s best interest. So, why not go ahead and hire Matheny?

It’s hard to sort out what, or whom, to believe. Some say Hayworth has ulterior motives and is angling for the CEO job herself. But she didn’t come to the News & Record; we sought her out after hearing rumors of the Barber call. Only then did she and DGI board Chairman Gary Brame meet with the News & Record.

But one thing is clear: DGI still suffers from an identity crisis. Even as the faces change, the strained relationship between the City Council, which provides most of the group’s funding, does not. DGI remains plagued by a muddled message from city leaders about what it is supposed to be and do. That makes it nearly impossible for any DGI leader to succeed.

Former CEO Ed Wolverton was forced out in 2013 amid complaints from city leaders that DGI was ineffective. Jason Cannon was hired to replace Wolverton —with input from the council. He resigned under pressure after barely two years in the job. This suggests a deeper problem. A frustrated Hayworth last week described DGI “as a ship out in the ocean without a rudder.”

Number two, whatever Barber said to Hayworth, it was grossly inappropriate for him to lobby on a fellow council member’s behalf. He did Matheny no favors with his call on April 7 to Hayworth. If Matheny is the best candidate for the job, the selection process should bear that out with no help or interference from Barber — or any other council member.

Finally, it should be telling that fewer people than you can count on one hand — three — have applied for this position, which you would think should attract a deep field of strong candidates. When Cannon was hired in 2013, he was one of five finalists culled from a field of 42.

That ought to tell us something.

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