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Bill Kirby Jr.: Councilwoman to call for investigation of mayor and others

Yvonne Kinston wants to know about the roles of Mayor Mitch Colvin and others in the allegations raised by former Councilwoman Tisha Waddell in her resignation letter.

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There can be no secrets or hidden agendas when it comes to the work of an elected municipal body bound by the public trust.

That’s why it is called government in the sunshine.

And it has much to do with why Tisha Waddell resigned in November in the midst of her second term on the Fayetteville City Council. In her resignation letter, Waddell accused Mayor Mitch Colvin and others of a lack of transparency over Bernhard Capital Partners' now-defunct bid to take over the city-owned Public Works Commission, alleged that some council members may have improperly discussed a special use permit for a halfway house on Cain Road and questioned whether building permits were handled properly for a downtown property the mayor has an interest in.

 The mayor calls the allegations baseless.  

“I’m definitely glad she is doing it,” Waddell says about Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston, who plans to have the Fayetteville Audit Committee ask the City Council for an independent investigation into the allegations. “If there is nothing to find, that’s fine.” 

“Our duty and our responsibility” 

Kinston will not be alone when she asks the council to allow the Audit Committee to bring in an outside group to dig into the allegations. Two committee members - Amy Samperton and Ron O’Brien - agree with Kinston. Other committee members are Elizabeth Somerindyke, the director; council members Larry Wright, Johnny Dawkins and Kinston; and City Manager Doug Hewett.

“Maybe the allegations are completely false,” O’Brien said during the Audit Committee’s meeting last week. “Maybe they are 100 percent correct. At this point we don’t know, but I think it’s our duty and our responsibility to put the issue on the table regardless of the outcome. If we don’t bring it to the table, I think we are dropping the ball in terms of our responsibilities as members of the Internal Audit Committee.” 

The Audit Committee, if you are wondering, was established as an advisory committee for the purpose of assisting the City Council in fulfilling its oversight responsibilities for the overall stewardship of the city’s financial affairs.

Now, if you think that Bernhard Capital Partners and its bid to assume management of our public utility wasn’t about money, you’d likely be wrong. If you think Dismas Charities wanting a halfway house along Cain Road has nothing to do with money, you’d likely be wrong. If you think the mayor’s bank building on Hay Street has nothing to do with money, you’d likely be wrong.  

Dawkins, chairman of the Audit Committee, refused to bring up addressing the allegations because he said it was out of the purview of the committee’s authority. Kinston found that position unacceptable. Now she’s bringing it back Monday to a council work session. 

“It’s not personal,” Kinston was saying Tuesday. “I want a resolution. I’m always looking for a resolution and closure.” 

An investigation by CityView TODAY reporter Greg Barnes into the behind-the-scenes negotiations of Bernhard Capital Partners’ efforts to take over the PWC found no signs of corruption, but it did find a lack of transparency by people trying to broker a deal with the equity firm. 

Dawkins says he believes an investigation into Waddell’s accusations is a “waste of time.”  

Kinston begs to differ.

So do Samperton and O’Brien.  

And Waddell for certain. 

“There should be more communication, more outward-facing transparency and less blind compliance of members of the overall body,” Waddell wrote in her November resignation letter to Hewett, City Attorney Karen McDonald and council members. “I'm very disappointed in Mayor Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Jensen, Councilman Wright and Councilman Davis because they have been dismissive of the process, critical of anything that seemingly opposed the Mayor's agenda and has refused to submit to a process review, choosing instead to ostracize those who believed it to be important. While the step I am taking to resign may seem drastic, it is imperative at this time.” 

Epilogue 

Assurance of government in the sunshine is not a waste of time. 

The question now is whether Kinston will receive support at Monday’s work session to place an investigation into the allegations on the council’s next regular meeting. The work session is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the FAST Transit Center. If a majority of the council gives a hand up at the work session, the matter moves to the council for a final vote at 7 p.m. on Feb. 14.  

Waddell said she believes councilwomen Shakeyla Ingram and Courtney Banks-McLaughlin will vote with Kinston. That leaves the decision to Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen and council members D.J. Haire, Larry Wright, Chris Davis, Antonio Jones and Dawkins. And the mayor, should he decide to vote rather than recuse himself. 

This will come down to six or seven votes Monday evening, depending on what the mayor chooses to do. 

Residents of this city will learn something about six council members, and perhaps the mayor, and if government in the sunshine matters.  

“If there is nothing to find,” Waddell says, so be it. 

Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear isn’t Waddell’s or Kinston’s way, and for some of us on the outside looking in, they are not alone.  

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Bernhard Capital Partners, Fayetteville, City Council, PWC, Tisha Waddell, Mitch Colvin, Yvonne Kinston, private equity firm, Audit Committee

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