CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The City of Charlotte is spending tens-of-thousands of tax dollars to help councilmembers get along better. A contract, obtained through a public record request, reveals the city entered into an agreement with a consulting company to provide advice on how councilmembers could operate more efficiently together.
There are plenty of examples over the last couple of years of why such a contract might have been pursued.
On February 1st, city council voted to appoint a new member after Councilman James “Smuggie” Mitchell resigned his position. Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said she had tried to organize an effort to come up with a process everyone could agree on but received little feedback until the day of the meeting.
“We’ve got to be willing to talk to each other and not disparage each other. We have to act as a council,” Eiselt said at the time.
Even before that meeting, Mayor Vi Lyles and councilmembers had been working to address these issues. In November the city signed a contract with Ernst and Young, known as EY, titled “High-Performing Charlotte City Council.”
The contract specifies EY was to conduct interviews with councilmembers and ultimately help council communicate more effectively and embrace each other’s perspectives.
The cost of the contract over a three-week period was $46,500.
“It was an idea that I thought needed discussion and I believe that working with the council, we all wanted to be the best and highest performing council,” Mayor Lyles said.
Lyles agreed to answer questions from WBTV about why she thought spending money on the contract would be good for taxpayers.
The contract states that EY would develop final recommendations and a supporting action plan and present relevant material to council during the annual strategic retreat January 11th.
Outside of a 40 minute presentation on a high performing council provided during that meeting, it’s not clear any other recommendations have been provided.
WBTV asked Lyles if the city has received any other results.
“We continue to think about how do we do this work, so the results, I don’t think that we’re looking for a result in terms of the end, I think we’re still thinking about how do we continuously focus on what the priorities are or what are the traits that we’re looking for as a high performing council,” Lyles said.
“The results that I’m seeing are the better discussions we’re having as a council.”
During the January 11th meeting, Councilman Ed Driggs asked the EY representative if council would be getting additional feedback.
“Will we be hearing more from you about how well we actually do when it comes to buying into a shared vision and working together?” Driggs asked.
Lyles addressed that question during the interview with WBTV.
“My understanding is that as we continue our work with EY, they continue to bring us benchmark other councils and other ideas of where people are doing great work,” Lyles said.
“Many times in government we have a final report. Learning is never just final.”
While a city spokesperson says there’s been no change in the scope of work, WBTV has learned some aspects of the contract have changed.
Councilmembers took part in 1-on-1 interviews with EY, small group discussions with each other and surveys but not every councilmember participated.
WBTV also learned that a plan to get councilmembers to provide feedback on other councilmembers was scrapped because it would be subject to a public records request.
Lyles said that EY has yet to submit an invoice for the $46,500 contract so the city hasn’t paid any money yet.
WBTV has also submitted a record request for the surveys but they have not been provided yet.
“Do I believe this is a value? Yes.” Lyles said.
“I think what you’re seeing is us talking really, openly in a way that I believe benefits this community greatly.”