Council tweaks ethics policy during late night meeting

Council tweaks ethics policy during late night meeting
Shortly before 11 pm, city council voted to make a change in semantics to their ethics policy so that complaints would be "reviewed" instead of immediately "investigated." (Source: WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - With more than a dozen ethics complaints filed against Charlotte city council members over the past month, city council took a step to limit the damage of what some are calling a “weaponized” policy. During their Tuesday night meeting council voted to retroactively change the policy so that complaints already filed would face review from “outside counsel” instead of an “independent investigator.”

According to council members who were in favor of the updated policy, the change is nothing more than an exercise in semantics and an attempt to limit the reputational damage of being “under investigation” if a council member has a frivolous complaint filed against them.

According to City Attorney Patrick Baker, a total of 14 complaints have been filed against city council members over the past month. Baker said none of them have been referred to an independent investigator yet as he waited for counsel to determine how to move forward on the policy. WBTV requested information about the complaints more than a week ago but the city had not provided that before Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The motion made during the Tuesday night meeting also included language to retroactively change the policy to one day before the first ethics complaint was filed.

Councilman Ed Driggs brought up the policy changes that were originally discussed in the Budget and Effectiveness Committee.

“We need to do this together,” Driggs said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to come together as a team and demonstrate some unity in response to a very divisive and unfortunate situation.”

But several council members had reservations about changing the policy retroactively and before the committee had completed all of its work reviewing the ethics policy.

“I think we could have kept this same energy to do the full work of the ethics policy,” Councilwoman Victoria Watlington said.

“It feels that we’re prioritizing ourselves over the public.”

The Budget and Effectiveness committee only took up the work of rephrasing the policy after a flurry of complaints were filed against council members. Originally, council had referred the committee to look at the policy after the city attorney had determined that there was no conflict of interest for Councilman Tariq Bokhari’s non-profit to contract with the city.

Councilman Braxton Winston made a motion to defer voting on the policy until the committee completed its entire review of the ethics policy. That motion failed and eventually Driggs original motion to adopt the policy changes retroactively passed in a 8-3 vote.

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