Three councilmembers facing independent ethics investigations as city attorney calls for an overhaul of the rules

Charlotte City Council launches independent ethics investigation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Three separate councilmembers are facing independent ethics investigations after a review of the complaints from Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker.

Baker says the ethics rules that currently exist need to be revisited by the council because they don’t allow him any discretion in deciding what is referred to as an independent investigator.

Democrats Dimple Ajmera and James “Smuggie” Mitchell and Republican Tariq Bokhari have all had ethics complaints filed against them with the city clerks office that is being referred to an independent investigator.

According to an email sent by Baker to city councilmembers, the independent investigations are not “imminent” as he works to continue reviewing the complaints before finding someone to conduct the inquiry.

On Saturday, Baker wrote an email to councilmembers notifying them that complaints filed against Ajmera and Mitchell met the technical requirements in order to be forwarded to an independent investigator.

In an email sent Sunday, Baker said new complaints filed against Councilman Bokhari had been filed and that one of them met the criteria for an independent investigation.

Baker also noted that the ethics on the rules need tweaking.

“The most glaring problem in Section D (there are several in my opinion) is that the policy provides absolutely no opportunity for a thorough substantive review of an allegation by the City Attorney prior to effectively requiring the City Attorney without any consideration by the City Council to launch an independent investigation,” Baker wrote.

The Budget and Effectiveness Committee is discussing ethics rules policies during their meeting Tuesday afternoon.

OYST with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles

The flurry of complaints came after questions were raised about a possible conflict of interest between the City of Charlotte and Councilman Bokhari’s non-profit, Carolina Fintech Hub.

As part of a program to bring people back to work after the pandemic, the City of Charlotte would grant $1.5 million in CARES Act funds as a stipend to people being trained by CFH.

Private donors, mostly banks, would then guarantee $5 million in salaries and overhead to CFH for the training program.

The CFH training would guarantee training and employment for 90 people and targets people who lost their job during the pandemic.

The city attorney ultimately decided that no conflict of interest existed in the program but councilmembers voted against moving forward on the project.

Several ethics complaints were filed against Bokhari but up until early this week, none of them met the criteria for an independent review.

Two weeks later, NCGOP filed ethics complaints against Ajmera and Mitchell.

NCGOP 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 a 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 affecting them.

In a statement given to WBTV, Monday Ajmera wrote “The idea that real estate industry contributions that represent less than 10 percent of my total fundraising in the last election determines where I stand is absurd. My voting record has consistently reflected my value of putting Charlotteans first.

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.

The complaint filed by the NCGOP states “Mitchell’s current employer (JE Dunn) has several references to strong business partnerships with Barton Mallow, including joint ventures in jobsite accident technology and data sharing agreements.”

The complaint filed against Councilman Bokhari is a carbon-copy of the complaint filed against Ajmera, alleging that he received campaign contributions from developers.

The complaint was filed by Charlotte attorney Brandon Forbes.

In an email to sent to WBTV, Bokhari said there was a difference between the complaint against him and Ajmera.

“While this politically motivated ‘copy and paste’ complaint against me might meet the low threshold for being referred to an independent investigator, which is a policy our attorney has said needs immediate review and revision, the material difference between the NC GOP complaint and any that would be filed against any elected official is not simply who they receive donations from, but also whether they use an active vote in front of council as leverage to solicit those donations,” Bokhari wrote.

WBTV interviewed Mayor Vi Lyles and she said since council members aren’t meeting in person, they aren’t working things out like they usually do. She also says the process will be followed.

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