CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two Democratic city council members are now facing ethics complaints filed by the North Carolina GOP after they raised questions about a planned partnership between the city and a Republican city councilman.
A news release sent by NCGOP states that complaints filed against council members James “Smuggie” Mitchell and Dimple Ajmera were in direct response to conflict of interest questions they raised about a planned partnership between City Councilman Tariq Bokhari’s non-profit Carolina Fintech Hub and the City of Charlotte.
The complaint against Mitchell focuses on a taxpayer funded trip to Detroit the councilman took in 2018 and first reported by WBTV.
WBTV’s investigation found that 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.
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.
Mitchell forwarded the email to high level employees at the company Barton Malow.
Barton Malow is a nationwide contractor that has completed numerous sports facility construction projects including Little Caesars 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.
Mitchell has not responded to WBTV’s request for comment.
“This trip, its direct financial connection to businesses that would financially gain from this sports facility construction project that employ Councilman Mitchell, and the timing directly prior to Council voting on and approving a $100M+ public subsidy demonstrates a clear need for the City to engage an independent investigator, validate this claim is not frivolous, and take the appropriate legal action to restore confidence in what is seemingly a corrupt system.”
NC GOP also filed a complaint against Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera alleging that she “has used her official position, particularly in rezoning cases, to directly engage with those from the real estate community who have business in front of the council to solicit campaign contributions.”
NC GOP listed nine different occasions in which Ajmera received political contributions from developers or property owners around the time that council approved zoning decisions effecting them.
In a statement sent to WBTV Ajmera, denied any wrong doing on her part.
“This is purely a racist, sexist and political attack. Let me be clear: I’ll not succumb to this pressure to deflect the real problem of the ongoing investigation of Council Member Bokhari,” Ajmera wrote.
“This is an intimidation tehnique to silence us from holding Council Member Bokhari accountable.”
The complaints from NCGOP came after both Ajmera and Mitchell were critical of a planned arrangement between Bokhari’s Carolina Fintech Hub and the city for a program to help train 90 people for jobs in the financial sector.
The city was planning on spending $1.5 million in CARES Act funds that would go directly to trainees of CFH as a stipend during the program. Bokhari and city staff were insistent that no city or CARES Act money would go directly to CFH.
Ultimately city council voted against moving forward with the partnership. However, Bokhari later stated that private donors came forward to ensure the program could stay at 90 participants.
In their news release, the NC GOP stated the attacks against Bokhari’s non-profit were unwarranted.
“While it has been deemed above board and compliant with all policies by the City Attorney, City Manager and every other relevant City Official, these few members of the Council and community continue their politically motivated attacks,” the statement read.
“The NCGOP has decided to shine a light on the real ethics violations that have been occurring in Charlotte for years by taking the following 3 actions earlier today.”
In addition to the ethics complaints, the NCGOP also filed a public records request for communications from Ajmera and Mitchell and their campaign organizers during the time frame in which there was debate over the Carolina Fintech Hub project.