CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - New emails obtained by WBTV show Charlotte City Councilman James “Smuggie” Mitchell forwarded information about a trip to Detroit—ostensibly for city-related economic development—to business contacts at a construction company where he used to work.
Mitchell went to Detroit in November 2018 on a taxpayer-funded trip that cost $1,421.26, records show.
On his reimbursement form, Mitchell listed the purpose of the trip as “return for site of Detroit Sports Facility.” The Detroit Lions hosted the Carolina Panthers that weekend in a regular season game.
WBTV first reported about the trip in September. Mitchell refused to answer questions about the trip, including what city business he conducted while in Detroit.
Since Mitchell refused to provide any information about his trip, WBTV submitted a records request for communication related to his travel.
Emails obtained through the records request show that Mitchell was communicating with Carolina Panthers President Tom Glick about visiting Detroit to tour some of its sports facilities.
On October 7th, 2018 Glick emailed Mitchell about scheduling the trip.
"I’ve noted our mutual interest in seeing some of the new facilities in Detroit (Little Caesars Arena and related entertainment zone, plus the changes at Ford Field. You said that Saturday the 17th is better for you. Let’s be in touch to coordinate a joint visit,” Glick wrote.
An hour later Mitchell forwarded the email to high level employees at the company Barton Malow.
FYI from the Panthers
Barton Malow is a nationwide contractor that has completed numerous sports facility construction projects including Little Cesar's Arena in Detroit. They also were the contractor for the soccer stadium for Orlando City FC and fought to build the new soccer stadium in Nashville.
A press release from Barton Mallow shows Mitchell was hired at the construction firm in 2014 but he now works at the construction company JE Dunn.
On a 2016 statement of economic interest filing with the City of Charlotte, Mitchell disclosed that he worked as the Director of Business Development at Barton Malow. His 2017 and 2018 filings list JE Dunn as his employer but according to city staff Mitchell did not file a 2019 statement of economic interest by the February 1st deadline. His LinkedIn page shows that he’s employed by JE Dunn.
Charlotte city council is currently considering whether to help fund roughly $150 million in renovations at Bank of America Stadium to equip it to host an MLS soccer team. Council is waiting on a decision from MLS on whether to award Panthers owner David Tepper with a new franchise.
According to economic development meeting minutes and city council sources Mitchell never discussed the trip to Detroit with his colleagues on city council.
An email from Mitchell’s city council assistant shows that the expenses for the Detroit trip were originally rejected by the city’s procurement department.
“Revisit Detroits sports facility for???????????????
What is the business reason for his visit. We need that please. There has to be a business justification for every travel, so please request for enough information from the particular council member.
Was it for a new sports facility Detroit is building?
Was it for renovations they are making to a pre-existing sports facility? I mean, what is the reason for that travel?” a procurement employee wrote to Mitchell’s assistant.
Mitchell originally questioned why he was being asked to provide more information.
“Who in City procurement is asking? Have them to call me please. I’m confused why procurement department would be interest in a Economic Development site visit,” Mitchell wrote in an email on October 24th 2018.
Mitchell then said he would forward the itinerary to procurement but it’s unclear why those records did not appear in his expense report originally requested by WBTV.
Other emails obtained in the public records request also show that Mitchell was intending to travel with numerous city staff and consultants.
Assistant City Manager overseeing Economic Development Tracy Dodson was scheduled to join the trip but a city source says she did not attend. A consultant for the city manager also did not attend, a source says because it would have been too expensive for the city. It’s unclear whether representatives from the Sports & Entertainment company Illitch Holdings Inc went on the trip.
WBTV has also requested emails from Mitchell’s work account with JE Dunn related to the trip but those emails have not been provided yet.