CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill/The Charlotte Observer) - Republican mayoral candidate Kenny Smith Wednesday accused Democrat Vi Lyles of a conflict of interest by voting to award city contracts to a company that employs her son, though the city attorney called the vote "neither illegal nor unethical."
Smith made the allegation in a digital ad running on Facebook and other sites.
"Charlotteans deserve better than someone who wants to stay in power just to keep lining their own pockets," Smith says in the ad. "That's why Vi Lyle's conflicts of interest are so outrageous. Vi Lyles has received thousands of dollars from the owner and employees of a construction company that employs her family members and competes for contracts issued by the city of Charlotte."
Lyles responded to the video "challenging my integrity and honesty."
"I knew, and have verified with the city attorney, that there is no conflict of interest in my vote on the convention center expansion project," she said.
The ad appears to be the first attack in what has been a low-key mayor's race. Smith and Lyles are trying to succeed Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who lost to Lyles in the primary.
Early voting starts Thursday. Election Day is Nov. 7.
Smith's ad alludes to a recent city council vote to award a $43 million contract for convention center expansion to a consortium that includes R.J. Leeper Construction. Lyles son Kwame is employed as a project manager for the company.
In a statement released by the Lyles campaign, City Attorney Bob Hagemann said, state law calls for council members to recuse themselves on "matters involving the consideration of the member's own financial interest … To the extent that your son has a financial interest in the contract (and I don't know that he does), that would not be your financial interest."
"In short," he continued, "you were under no obligation to seek a recusal from voting on a contract with RJ Leeper Construction and it was neither illegal nor unethical for you to have done so."
In a statement, Smith said, "As a council member I've called for higher ethical standards and will continue to as Mayor. As elected officials it's paramount that we have the communities trust."
In his ad he also says, "As an assistant city manager, Lyles was responsible for awarding contracts to companies like the one that invested in her campaign."
Council approves all contracts over $100,000. Ron Leeper, president of R.J. Leeper has given Lyles at least $1,000. So has her son, Kwame Alexander.
Leeper said he and Lyles have been friends for nearly four decades. Alexander has worked for the company for about five years, he said. He called the allegation of conflict "a stretch."