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Council members unsure of what happens next with Waddell allegations

The council voted for the city’s Ethics Commission to investigate the allegations, but the commission says it can’t unless Waddell files a formal complaint. Waddell says she never asked for the commission to investigate. That leaves council members uncertain of what to do next.


The City Council’s request for the Ethics Commission to investigate allegations made by former Councilwoman Tisha Waddell appears to be at a standstill.

When she resigned in November, Waddell left a resignation letter containing many broad and vague allegations against council members, Mayor Mitch Colvin and others. She asked for an immediate independent review and suggested there has been “corruption of members of the Fayetteville City Council.”

On Feb. 14, the council made a unanimous request for the Ethics Commission to investigate the allegations. Three days later, Bob Cogswell, the lawyer for the Ethics Commission, wrote to the council and city officials explaining that a preliminary review is needed to determine whether the commission has the authority to investigate.

Cogswell cited the city’s Code of Ethics (COE), which in part requires a detailed statement of the facts and reasons why a person should be investigated, as well as a description of the city code provision that may have been violated.

As written, Cogswell wrote, Waddell's allegations do not adhere to the city’s code.

“I recognize that the current Complaint makes allegations against members of the City Council who initiated the Complaint,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, in order to proceed the Complaint needs to be submitted in compliance with the COE before it may proceed to consideration by the Ethics Commission.”

Following that message, Councilman Chris Davis wrote to Cogswell on Feb. 22 asking what options the council might have. 

“Their (sic) are obviously missing details, which are solely with the author of the letter,” Davis wrote to Cogswell. “Should the author not be contacted by the ethics commission in order to request that the letter be accompanied by the proper information?”

The next day, Cogswell did just that.

“Please see the email below (Davis’ message) and advise if you want to file a complaint with the Ethics Commission based on your letter of resignation,” Cogswell wrote to Waddell. 

The Ethics Commission has a formal form for people to fill out if they want to file a complaint. Waddell has not filled out the form, and it appears that she has no intention of doing so.

In her reply to Cogswell, she never answered his question of whether she wanted to file a complaint.

“I did not request a review by the Ethics Commission for reasons I have regularly disclosed since my resignation, and neither did the Audit Committee, who sparked this action,” Waddell wrote to Cogswell. “As this was a Council decision, of which I had no say, I think that Mr. Davis will have to look to the Council to determine how to move forward according to what they believe the best course of action is…I am confident that the City Attorney can provide him with the best guidance on proceeding if he still has questions!”

But City Attorney Karen McDonald said she is awaiting direction from the council on possible next steps to proceed.

Meanwhile, Colvin thinks Waddell is merely playing politics.

“Tisha refused to cooperate with the investigation and provide any specifics to her baseless allegations,” Colvin said in an email. “Her inaction and the timing certainly lead me to believe this is politically motivated. I’m certain her cooperation will be critical to any investigation whether internal or external.”

Council members Larry Wright, D.J. Haire, Chris Davis, Shakeyla Ingram, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Antonio Jones did not respond to two emails requesting comment. Council members Johnny Dawkins, Kathy Keefe Jensen and Yvonne Kinston spoke to CityView TODAY by phone.

As a member of the city’s Audit Committee, Kinston in late January urged the committee to again ask the council for an independent investigation of Waddell’s allegations. The Audit Committee agreed, but instead of an independent investigation, the council unanimously directed the Ethics Commission to do it.

Since then, the council has not considered the matter again.

“Regardless of how it moves, it has to have a general consensus from the full council,” Kinston said. “And I don't know if the full council is going to request an outside investigation if the Ethics Committee said that they're not going to do it.”

Dawkins, the chairman of the Audit Committee, reluctantly voted for the committee to ask the council for an investigation, though at one point he called such an investigation “a waste of time.” Now, he said, he’s just waiting for direction.

“My hope was that the city attorney was going to provide some clarification for what needs to be investigated, what accusations need to be investigated by the Ethics Commission,” Dawkins said. “I'd like to see the city attorney get more involved in it, but maybe she doesn't know what to do.”

Jensen said she is waiting on McDonald for direction, too.

“The only thing that I can tell you on the record is basically I'm just waiting …for our city attorney to tell us what our best, you know, what we need to do, because I don't know,” Jensen said.

Waddell was asked repeatedly if she planned to fill out the Ethics Commission’s form, detailing her allegations and the times they occurred. The Ethics Commission cannot investigate allegations that happened more than a year ago.

She said only that she has responded to Cogswell by saying she never asked for the Ethics Commission to investigate. That was the council’s decision, Waddell said, not hers.

“We haven't spoken again since then,” Waddell said. “I don't know where the council stands with that action.”

Waddell was asked if she wanted the Ethics Commission to investigate if no one else will.

“I’ve said this all along, I want there to be an external investigation based upon the allegations that I made,” she said. “And the reason I've requested an external investigation is because I believe that an agency with subpoena authority needs to be involved, because I don't see this council arbitrarily turning over any information that substantiates the claim that I made.”

Waddell was then asked if she even wanted the Ethics Commission to investigate. 

Waddell replied: “Council unanimously engaged the Ethics Commission. It is their responsibility to handle that. The council has set in motion and action and now they have to follow through… A member of council reached out to Mr. Cogswell with a question and as a result Mr. Cogswell reached out to me. I provided him with my response.

“I'm waiting on the council to determine what direction they wish to take. If the council wishes to proceed with an ethics investigation, they have the wherewithal to be able to figure that out. I'm quite sure they have an attorney that they pay very good money to be able to give them guidance. And what I'm understanding is that their attorney indicated that they have not made any additional directive as to how they wish to proceed.

“I cannot arbitrarily move outside of council direction just because I want to. If I could have, we already would have engaged the FBI in an external investigation. So my response to you, I will comply with an ethics investigation should one move forward.”

CityView TODAY spent more than a month investigating Waddell’s allegations into Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm that wanted to provide the city more than $750 million upfront in exchange for operating the Fayetteville Public Works Commission for 30 years. The proposal died after the PWC backed out of it.

Although CityView TODAY found no evidence of corruption, it did find evidence that Colvin and others had worked behind the scenes in an attempt to close the deal and that the evidence indicates officials had purposely tried to keep the public in the dark.

In a similar effort in Jacksonville, Florida, Bernhard and other companies had been vying to buy that city’s electric utility. Last year, an independent investigation found evidence that Jacksonville officials shielded actions from the state’s sunshine laws and the public because it knew that the public would object to the sale.

The proposed Bernhard deal was among the allegations that Waddell said should be investigated. Her allegations also include:

  • That the city’s bond attorney, Jonathan Charleston, tried to engage in inappropriate discussions with council members “before, during or after” the council was to vote on a special-use permit for Dismas Charities, a nonprofit organization that wants to build a federal halfway house in Fayetteville. Emails provided by Waddell to CityView TODAY show that Charleston tried to contact at least one council member after the council rejected the permit but before a Superior Court judge was to rule on the matter. The council approved the permit Monday after the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that it had no choice.
  • That Colvin had city staff wipe his cell phone clean of information when then council member Tyrone Williams was accused of trying to bribe an official involved with the reconstruction of the Prince Charles Hotel. CityView TODAY could not substantiate the allegation.
  • That building permits and a certificate of appropriateness for a downtown building purchase and renovation that Colvin was privately involved in were not handled properly by city staff. CityView TODAY has not yet looked into those allegations.
  • That council members Jensen, Haire, Dawkins, Davis and Wright have a “seeming allegiance to Mayor Colvin’s agenda” and that some council members have close communication with Charleston personally and professionally. The council members who were named dispute those allegations or any conflicts of interest.

Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at gregbarnes401@gmail.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, City Council, allegations, Tisha Waddell, Ethics Commission