The Fayetteville City Council voted unanimously Monday night to have the Fayetteville Ethics Commission investigate allegations of a lack of transparency against Mayor Mitch Colvin and other council members regarding a proposed takeover last year of the Fayetteville PWC.
The council split 5-4 last week against a request by the Fayetteville Audit Committee to allow an independent investigation of the accusations former Councilwoman Tisha Waddell made in her November resignation letter.
“I thought about it and reconsidered,” said Councilman D.J. Haire, who brought the matter before the council in an about-face of a work session vote eight days ago that met with a measure of criticism from some city residents.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen and council members Larry Wright, Johnny Dawkins, Yvonne Kinston, Shakeyla Ingram, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, Antonio Jones and Chris Davis joined with Haire in Monday’s decision. Mayor Mitch Colvin, who recused himself from the Feb. 7 work session vote, was absent from Monday’s council meeting.
Jensen, Wright, Dawkins, Davis and Haire voted against allowing the Fayetteville Audit Committee to delve further into Waddell’s claims, which also included allegations of behind-the-scenes negotiations for a proposed halfway house for federal inmates on Cain Road and special treatment for Colvin’s downtown business property along Hay Street.
Their votes trumped council members Ingram, Banks-McLaughlin, Jones and Kinston, who presented the request on behalf of the Fayetteville Audit Committee.
Colvin has maintained that Waddell’s allegations are baseless.
A month-long probe by CityView TODAY investigative reporter Greg Barnes found no corruption regarding the mayor and Bernhard Capital Partners in its bid to take over the Public Works Commission. But he did find a lack of transparency related to discussions and meetings with the equity firm out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“I’m ready for the council to move on,” Colvin said after the work session decision. “It’s nothing to be relieved about. There’s nothing there.”
Wright called it like “chasing a rabbit down a hole,” and said it was time to do the “people’s business” and so did Davis.
Haire’s change of heart apparently was not anticipated.
“Former council member Waddell submitted allegations with her letter,” he told the council, “and I would like to submit that letter to the Ethics Commission.”
Wright seconded Haire’s motion.
“I feel the Ethics Commission is where it needed to go” (in the first place,) said Jensen, who presided in the mayor’s absence.
Dawkins nodded in agreement.
“It’s in the purview of the council,” City Attorney Karen McDonald told the council before the vote, “as to how you want to proceed.”
The Ethics Commission is comprised of board members Dale Knowles, Tracey Henderson, Dr. Stephen Rochman, Thomas Donnelly Jr. and Chairman Dymond Spain. The commission recently heard and dismissed eight complaints that police employees had made against Police Chief Gina Hawkins.
“I’m not stunned,” Waddell said late Monday night. “I think the Ethics Commission will do the best they can, given the authority that they have. But it has always been my request that it be an external investigation. I certainly think this is a huge change. I want to be optimistic about this. I will be cautiously optimistic.”
Revisiting Ingram censure
Monday’s meeting also included a unanimous vote by the council to authorize the city clerk to review a Dec. 6 censure of Ingram, who requested clarification about her criticism of the council and whether she spoke before the council adjourned.
“This is the most corrupt-(expletive) board I have ever served on,” Ingram said at the conclusion of the Dec. 6 work session.
Ingram said Monday her remark was after the session adjourned.
“What I’m asking is to amend the resolution,” Ingram said.
Ingram was adamant.
“I don’t think there is a problem clarifying the proper procedures of that night,” Wright said. “I know she has admitted what she said. I think she made the comment right after the mayor hit the gavel. It was made where the community could hear it. I would vote to get it clarified.”
The council voted for City Clerk Pam Megill to research the minutes and a video of the work session and bring her findings back to the council for further review.
Protester: ‘I’m being harassed.’
While the council met, a few protesters outside in support of Jason Walker drowned out some discussion as council members strained to hear one another.
“I’m outside being harassed by the Fayetteville Police Department,” Shaun McMillan, co-founder of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce, told the council during a public forum. “What brings us here is Jason Walker.”
McMillan later told CityView TODAY he was issued a citation by the Police Department for violating a noise ordinance.
Walker, 37, was fatally shot Jan. 8 by Lt. Jeffrey Hash, an off-duty Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy along Bingham Drive. Hawkins, the police chief, has turned over the investigation to the State Bureau of Investigation to avoid any appearance of a conflict.
“Arrest Jeffrey Hash,” Kathy Greggs, also with Fayetteville PACT, said during the public forum, “and fire Gina Hawkins.”
Other council action included:
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.