The Fayetteville Audit Committee plans to ask the City Council for an independent investigation into allegations made by former Councilwoman Tisha Waddell in her five-page resignation letter in November.
The committee voted 4-0 in November to ask the council for the investigation, but Councilman Johnny Dawkins, the committee’s chairman, withdrew the request at a Dec. 6 council meeting. Dawkins said the request was not in the committee’s purview.
Councilwoman Yvonne Kinston brought the issue back up at a committee meeting Thursday. Kinston and other Audit Committee members disagreed with Dawkins’ contention that the committee’s bylaws don’t allow it to request an investigation.
Dawkins initially rejected Kinston’s request for the investigation, saying on a recording of the meeting that she could make the request on her own.
“Is it part of our responsibility to do this type of investigation?” Dawkins asked. “I mean I could bring up that I think President Biden needs to be impeached and we could all agree on that, except maybe one, but it’s not germane, it’s not in our purview.
“I’m not going to do it, be a part of it. I want to make that clear… I think it’s a waste of time.”
Dawkins, sounding frustrated, also suggested that his time as the committee chairman should end soon.
Committee members Amy Samperton and Ron O’Brien supported Kinston’s request to put the issue back before the council. Both called for an independent investigation of the allegations, preferably by an agency outside of the county. Samperton called Dawkins’ remarks about Biden “hyperbolic.”
O’Brien said “allegations of fraud, waste and abuse are clearly within the committee’s purview.”
“Maybe the allegations are completely false. Maybe they are 100 percent correct,” O’Brien said. “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.”
At the conclusion of the discussion, Kinston suggested that she and Dawkins both make the request to the council for an investigation. Dawkins agreed.
Mayor Mitch Colvin declined to comment, saying it’s time to move on.
“So Miss Kinston obviously has another agenda so you’ll probably have to get whatever comments from her,” Colvin said Monday.
According to the city’s website, the Audit Committee has seven members: three City Council members, two members selected from among the city’s colleges and universities, the city manager and the internal audit director. Larry Wright is the other council member.
Many of Waddell’s allegations concern a now-defunct proposal from Bernhard Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Louisiana that wanted to give the city $750 million upfront in exchange for operating the Fayetteville Public Works Commission for 30 years and pocketing the profits.
In her resignation letter, Waddell accused Mayor Mitch Colvin and city bond attorney Jonathan Charleston of working behind the scenes to try to close the deal without fully informing the council of its intentions. Colvin called all of Waddell’s allegations baseless. Charleston said he has done nothing wrong.
CityView TODAY spent more than a month investigating the allegations concerning the private equity firm. While it found no evidence of corruption, it did find a lack of transparency on the part of Colvin and others.
Negotiations with Bernhard Capital Partners in Fayetteville were similar to those in Jacksonville, Florida, where Bernhard was among the firms that wanted to buy the city’s utility company. The Jacksonville City Council conducted an investigation, which found that negotiations were “conducted with a purposeful lack of transparency,” because city officials knew the public wouldn’t support transferring the utility to private ownership.
Waddell made several other allegations in her resignation letter. Among them:
CityView TODAY continues to look into those allegations.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.