Charlotte mayor admits regrets over racial equity plan rollout and lack of transparency

Councilman Tariq Bokhari said council and the public was misled about why American Rescue Plan...
Councilman Tariq Bokhari said council and the public was misled about why American Rescue Plan dollars needed to be approved at the council retreat.(WBTV)
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 10:35 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said she had regrets about the rollout of her racial equity initiative as one councilman said the public was misled and possibly even lied to.

During the Charlotte City Council meeting Monday evening, Republican Councilman Tariq Bokhari made allegations that City Manager Marcus Jones and Mayor Vi Lyles conspired on a vote for council to hurriedly approve federal covid dollars in order to move forward with the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, which was announced just a week later.

“Tonight is about us figuring out exactly how we were misled and potentially lied to in some parts and what laws and protocols were broken to get us to this point,” Bokhari said.

While other councilmembers were much more tempered in their approach, they also voiced concerns over the process that led to their unwitting vote.

“I’m excited and support the project, it’s the process,” Councilwoman Renee Johnson said.

On October 26th during the council retreat in Winston-Salem, City Manager Marcus Jones told council that city staff wanted them t vote then and there on approving a $60 million plan with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The agenda made no mention of any motion or vote on the issue. The presentation did not get into specifics about how the money would be spent, other than how much on specific city initiatives.

Council approved the plan with only Bokhari dissenting.

One week later, Mayor Lyles gathered with private industry leaders to announce a new racial equity initiative totaling $250 million. Included in that plan was $10 million from the city in bridging the digital divide, which was just approved by council during the ARPA vote.

During the meeting on Monday, City Attorney Patrick Baker said that he would not recommend voting on an agenda item without it being properly noticed ahead of time.

To his point, Bokhari said he got what he wanted out of his line of questioning, which is ensuring that council will be able to vote again when these ARPA funds are actually dispersed.

But Councilman Braxton Winston said he doesn’t know how the Mayor could have a racial equity initiative if the city has never adopted an actual racial equity plan.

“It is missing a step that could prove fatal,” Winston said.

“And that step is equity.”

Mayor Vi Lyles admitted she does have regrets about how she failed to keep councilmembers in the loop.

“That wasn’t sufficient and that wasn’t enough and so for that I really would like to let you all know  thought about it i regret that it happened and I am going to work toward that type of disclosure as things come up.

But she did not provide details on how the public-private partnership evolved.

City Manager Marcus Jones and Charlotte Regional Business Alliance CEO Janet LeBar also presented details on the governance structure of the racial equity initiative funds. The city council will control public funds.

Councilmembers said they want to focus on that part of the process and implementation of the funds moving forward.

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