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Charlotte city manager to re-file ethics forms after WBTV investigation

A WBTV investigation found the city manager failed to disclose seats on several nonprofit boards that do business with the city.
Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 7:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones failed to disclose numerous organizations he is involved with on his government ethics forms, according to records reviewed by WBTV.

The “Statement of Economic Interest” forms are a key component of making sure public and private interests don’t conflict with government work.

The records reviewed by WBTV also show that Charlotte Economic Development Director Tracy Dodson failed to disclose similar organizations on her form.

In July WBTV highlighted potential conflicts of interest for Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones on a project that has gone past schedule and overbudget. The Innovation Barn renovation project is being led by Envision Charlotte, a nonprofit for which Jones is a volunteer board member.

In response to that story a city spokesperson wrote “The city maintains a stringent protocol to avoid and mitigate risks associated with perceived or actual conflicts of interest.”

Previous: Potential conflicts in sustainability spending at City of Charlotte

However, Jones did not disclose on his conflict form that he serves on the board of Envision Charlotte.

“They’re (the forms) important for citizens to be able to see where, either elected or appointed officials, might have interests in their private lives that also affect the way that they do public business,” North Carolina Open Government Coalition Director Brooks Fuller told WBTV.

Fuller believes the Statement of Economic Interest forms play a big role in the public knowing about the people running their city.

“When we have folks either sitting on the City Council, County Commission, or work in the city manager’s office that also have nonprofit or business interests, then it’s very important to disclose those so that the public is aware of how they might be affected by policy initiatives,” Fuller said.

Section seven of the form requires disclosure of nonprofits the person is involved with that is or is seeking to do business with the City.

That section on Jones’ form is blank, even though he acknowledges serving on the board of Envision Charlotte.

WBTV found four organizations Jones serves on that were left off the form too including Center City Partners, Trees Charlotte, Charlotte Sports Foundation and Leading on Opportunity.

Assistant City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba listed Center City Partners on his form writing the organization is involved with the City on the 2040 Plan and as a Municipal Service District that receives tax revenue.

“It’s a relatively low lift to fill out the form, to disclose where you might have business or personal interests that might either be helped or even conflict with the business that you do in the public sector,” Fuller said.

Charlotte Economic Development Director Tracy Dodson also did not list any nonprofits although WBTV found she serves on two boards including University City Partners and Commercial Real Estate Development Association Charlotte Chapter.

Jaiyeoba also listed University City Partners on his form writing that the organization is a Municipal Service District that receives tax revenue.

Our requests to ask Jones questions for this story on-camera were denied. But in an email a city spokesperson wrote that Jones would refile his form.

“The form is prepared for the City Manager and based on the intent of the form and how the form was previously completed, we believed that the form was completed correctly and fulfills the purpose of the form. There is clearly no intent to hide his participation on those boards as his membership on these boards is publicly listed on their websites. To ensure there is no perception of any conflict, the Manager will update and refile the form,” the spokesperson wrote.

A spokesperson also told us that Dodson said that not filling out that section was an accident because she believed she no longer served on those boards and said she was not involved over the last two years.

City ordinance does not require city employees or the City Manager to fill out the Statement of Economic Interest form. The ordinance that made it mandatory was repealed in 2010 but a spokesperson said employees in the City Managers office, as well as department heads, voluntarily fill the form out.

“I think when it comes to disclosures of this nature, mandatory is better because it provides clarity, it provides consistency,” Fuller said.

Related: Outside ethics review clears Charlotte council members, recommends improvements

In March, a group of attorneys reviewing ethics complaints against councilmembers recommended several changes to the Statement of Economic Interest form. That included an ethics advisor that should review those documents on an annual basis to help provide officials guidance on potential conflicts of interest.

“We would of course encourage city officials to fill these out erring on the side of listing all of their personal and business relationships that might affect their public sector business,” Fuller said.

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