GREENSBORO, N.C. — Black Network Television is threatening to sue the city of Greensboro, seeking damages for an estimated $50 million in damages and losses related to a $300,000 economic development loan from the city that was approved on June 18.
One month later, the Council voted not to approve new conditions for the loan, which meant the BNT was no longer eligible for the money, said City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan.
Michael and Ramona Woods, President and CFO of Black Network Television respectively, spoke to the media on Monday and stated the damages for not receiving that $300,000 loan are estimated in excess of $50 million.
The Woods' Attorney Willie Gary said the basis of a potential lawsuit is simple. "[The City of Greensboro] destroyed this opportunity for this network to ever be all that it could have been because they gave their word and they reneged on it. It's not right."
Shah-Khan disagreed. "Council made the decision to award it initially and then they made the decision to not modify the terms. That's not the same as reneging on the deal. The city never withdrew the deal."
In fact, he said, as of Monday the original loan and original terms are still "on the table," but said the Woods don't qualify for it.
"When the Woods asked the City to expedite the closing of the loan so they could make payroll on the television show, we learned from their attorneys that they actually had $585,000 of debt on the house. And they had a mortgage and a home equity loan, which would have meant the city would have been third on the loan- not second," explained Shah-Khan.
He explained, original reports to Council indicated a $509,000 debt on the house, not $585,000. He said the City also had originally understood it would be second on the loan rather than third.
The new information, said Shah-Khan, meant the Council had to reconsider the terms of the loan and re-vote on the issue in July. They voted not to modify the loan conditions.
Council member Zack Metheny said he changed his vote because the new financial information was startling, and he did not see a clear future economic benefit to the City of Greensboro. There were concerns the City would be third in line for repayment of a loan.
"The City of Greensboro is not a bank," insisted Metheny.
"We would never go and get a loan that we didn't think we could repay. And we would never put our home on the line if we weren't sure," Ramona Woods told Fox8.
According to the network, the loan was slated for network operations, including production of a new national comedy series titled, "Whatcha Cookin’?"
The network is claiming discrimination.
"Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Sometimes you have to fight for what’s right," said Attorney Willie Gary. He added, "What we think is going to be clear that somewhere between the first vote and second vote, some conspiracy went on... This is case of racism in the worst way. There's no reason these black people shouldn't have gotten that loan."
Shah-Khan said there is no evidence the Council's decision was racially discriminatory. "The suggestion that maybe in that month there was maybe a conspiracy? Show us the conspiracy. Show us statements. Show us proof. It doesn't exist."
As of Monday morning, the network has not filed the lawsuit. Shah-Khan said the network issued a "letter of demand for settlement" to the city.
Gary said they don't want to fight and would rather settle with the city, but emphasized they are prepared to go to court.
"Black Network Television is a strong voice in this community, and we must address the injustice of this situation," said Michael Woods.
Woods says they’ve realized, "Economic injustice and discrimination can raise it’s ugly head."
Longtime business owners in the Triad region, Woods and his wife launched the television network in 2011. "We will do whatever we can to bring those guilty of racism to the forefront," said Gary, discussing the lawsuit in a press conference Monday.
He did not offer specific examples of racism in the case but indicated they would look through city emails and memos to expose the racism, which he said was the only explanation for the loan not working out.
Currently, the network serves 28 counties in North Carolina and Virginia, reaching more than 4.2 million viewers.