CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Half of the members on the Charlotte City Council spent thousands of dollars on taxpayer-funded travel, in excess of the amount they were budgeted, a review of city travel records show.
WBTV requested travel records for every member of the council, including Mayor Vi Lyles.
We found Lyles and five council members spent more than the amount in the city budget in individual travel.
Each council member is given $4,000 each year to travel for city-related business. As mayor, Lyles is given $6,000.
Records show Lyles spent more than double her budget, racking up more than $14,000 in travel-related expenses last year.
Council members Dimple Ajmera, James Mitchell, LaWana Mayfield, Larken Egleston and Tariq Bokhari all also spent more on travel than their budget allowed.
Here’s how much council member’s spent in FY 2019
Dimple Ajmera - $7,829.96
Tariq Bokhari - $4,138.02
Ed Driggs - $517.73
Larken Egleston - $4,970.10
Julie Eiselt - $2,149.71
Justin Harlow - $0
Vi Lyles - $14,271.23
Lawana Mayfield - $6,947.62
Matt Newton - $315.17
Greg Phipps - $963.33
Braxton Winston - $1,082.86
Mitchell takes mystery trip to Detroit during Panthers football weekend
Mitchell spent roughly $13,000 on travel during the 2019 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
Records show Mitchell’s travel included everything from last year’s Republican National Committee meeting in Austin, TX, where Charlotte was officially announced as the host of the party’s 2020 convention, to a legislative summit in Seattle.
But it also included a trip to Detroit on November 17, 2018.
The expense form lists the trip as “return for site of Detroit Sports Facility” related to economic development.
Mitchell chairs the council’s Economic Development Committee but WBTV couldn’t find any mention of a visit to Detroit in a review of committee meeting summaries.
But that weekend was when the Carolina Panthers played the Detroit Lions in Michigan.
Records show Mitchell was reimbursed more than $1,400 for the flight, a hotel, parking and more.
Mitchell refused to respond to a phone call or text messages from a WBTV reporter seeking information about his trip to Detroit.
He further refused to answer questions about the trip when a WBTV reporter approached him outside of a meeting at the government center.
“I’m good,” Mitchell responded when the reporter asked if he could answer questions about his trip to Detroit.
Mitchell then proceeded to walk down the hall and stare blankly as the reporter asked specific questions about the trip, including what city business was included during the visit to Detroit and whether Mitchell attended the Panthers football game that weekend.
Ajmera sees friends while on city business
The travel records also show councilwoman Dimple Ajmera spent more than her $4,000 travel budget.
Records show Ajmera took two trips to California, among others, where the councilwoman has family and friends.
Records show on both trips, Ajmera stayed in California beyond the duration of the city-related event. She told WBTV that on one of the trips she did stay longer to spend the holidays with friends.
Unlike Mitchell, Dimple agreed to talk with WBTV about her travel expenses.
She defended the use of funds and said the city gets a return on the investment many times over, such as the $2.5 million awarded for winning the American Cities Climate Challenge.
While Ajmera did not bill the city for the days after the event ended, records show, it did affect her flight plans and cost.
Council takes chartered plane, are exempt from city travel rules
Ajmera was also one of five council members to went to Pittsburgh earlier this year for an inter-city visit hosted by the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.
Records show that trip cost $3,000 per councilmember because the group flew on a chartered plane.
Mayor Lyles and councilmembers Bokhari, Egleston, Mitchell and Ajmera all went on the trip to Pittsburgh.
WBTV requested an interview with Mayor Vi Lyles but was denied. When a reporter approached her outside of a meeting to ask about the council’s travel expenses, she refused to answer.
Without an explanation from Lyles or other members of the council, it’s not clear who, if anyone, polices the council’s travel spending.
A city spokesman sent WBTV a copy of the city’s travel policy, which says travel expenses must be transacted in pursuit of city goals. But the spokesman later clarified that councilmembers are exempt from that policy.