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The Kirby File: City agrees to pay former police chief $200,000 under threat of lawsuit

Council, by an 8-2 decision, takes Gina Hawkins’ threat of a potential lawsuit to heart. Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin says, 'It’s unfortunate … taxpayers are the ones who have to pay.'


Call it the path of least resistance. 

Call it what you will, but whatever you call it, the Fayetteville City Council’s vote Monday night authorized a financial settlement with former Police Chief Gina Hawkins. The settlement will come at the expense of city residents.

“It is unfortunate that because of these (alleged) allegations,” City Councilmember Courtney Banks-McLaughlin said on Tuesday, “taxpayers are the one who have to pay.” 

Banks-McLaughlin says she addressed her motion out of City Council transparency.

“It was important for the community to know,” she said.

The three-term councilwoman led the motion Monday for City Manager Doug Hewett to negotiate a settlement with Hawkins, who in a letter from Raleigh attorney James Hairston earlier threatened legal action against the city for what Hawkins says was a hostile working environment — including allegations of racist and sexist treatment, during her 5½ years leading the Fayetteville Police Department.

Pay me, Hawkins in essence said through Hairston, or I’ll see you in court.

Voting in favor of a settlement were Mayor Mitch Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen and council members Malik Davis, D.J. Haire, Lynne Bissette Greene, Derrick Thompson, Brenda McNair and Banks-McLaughlin. In opposition were councilmembers Mario Benavente and Deno Hondros. 

“At least for my part, the allegations were totally bogus,” Benavente said on Monday. “The falsehoods alleged were all prior to my time as a councilman, which began August 2022. Moreover, since I’ve been a councilman, our city has paid out over $1 million in settlements and attorney’s fees related to lawsuits involving” the Fayetteville Police Department. “I’m tired of blowing taxpayer money on political shakedowns.”

Benavente, a lawyer, said that allegations in Hairston’s letter to the city saying Benavente was out to get Hawkins’ job “didn’t occur. I wasn’t her employer when she alleged they occurred … but to reiterate, at least for my part, the allegations were totally bogus.”

Hondros offered something of a vague reason in explaining his dissent.

“The consensus of council is to authorize our city manager to execute the settlement; any reservations I may have had, and/or, any additional information I may have preferred notwithstanding,” he said. “Being a personnel matter, we are limited on what we can say regarding these matters. Generally speaking, if we study history, some of the bigger mistakes have been made unanimously. So, while a 10-0 vote is often revered, I am of the opinion that, at times, diligent, thoughtful and respectful dissent is not only acceptable, but valuable and beneficial to any board.”  

‘To avoid further litigation’

Jensen said Monday night she voted for settlement because she believed it the “right thing to do.” She added that with information discussed in the closed council session, “I believe it was the best decision.”

Davis, a freshman councilman, said that based on what he was told and in speaking with attorneys, “this was the best decision to make.”

McNair said on Monday she supported a settlement “to avoid further litigation” regarding Hawkins’ allegations. 

Greene, a freshman councilwoman, said Monday she takes responsibility for her vote for the city manager to negotiate the out-of-court settlement with Hawkins. 

But …

“The consent to offer a settlement and guidelines were given to the legal staff by the prior council at a prior meeting,” she said. “This was my first meeting and it started late. Due to several items being discussed in closed session, the time to discuss the agenda, this settlement and protocol was severely limited. The settlement item was added to the consent agenda and the voting process moved quickly. However, I believe in the future the consent agenda should be limited to items that are routine, need no discussion and are not likely to be controversial.” 

Mayor Colvin reserved comment Monday, saying he will have to consult with attorneys before addressing the matter.

Council members Derrick Thompson and D.J. Haire did not address inquiries about their votes. Thompson seconded Banks-McLaughlin’s motion for the city manager to negotiate the settlement. Haire is the longest-serving member of the council, now in his 12th term.


According to Hairston’s letter, Hawkins alleges she was screamed at by the mayor and other city leaders about her decisions around deployment of personnel during the summer of 2020; that former councilman Johnny Dawkins screamed and used racial epithets toward Hawkins in the presence of the council in 2020; that Dawkins questioned Hawkins about rumors of an alleged relationship with then-Councilmember Tyrone Williams in 2022 at a Police Foundation ball; and that Benavente said in 2022 before he was a councilman that he would be after her job. And that she was, according to the letter, disparaged because of her gender and race.

So, what's the settlement for the former police chief’s claims?

The cost to city residents: $200,000, according to the city that released the settlement late Tuesday, with $60,000 of the $200,000 going to Hairston Lane P.A. in Raleigh.

And city residents, in the words of Banks-McLaughlin, paid for her time with us.

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

bill kirby jr., gina hawkins, settlement